The reality of tragedy: My account of the Boise Towne Square mall shooting

Vigil candle
Photo by Paige Wirta

By Trisha Miller | Trisha is a recent Boise State alumnus and current Student Affairs staff member.

Content Warning: This article discusses gun violence and death.

On Monday I stood in the home section of Macy’s at the Boise Towne Square mall.

I was looking for a copper cookware set for my new house. I just moved back to Boise from Kuna so I could be closer to my work and friends. I took Monday off to get myself settled in my new place and to do some shopping.

So, I stood there thinking about what would look aesthetically pleasing in my new, white kitchen. I wanted to treat myself. I’ve been through a lot of big changes this year. I graduated college. I went through a divorce. I’m settling into a new career. Maybe I was thinking “which pans say ‘I’ve entered a new era of life’?”

This was the third store I’d been to that didn’t seem to have what I was looking for. But I walked across the back wall, near the exit, one last time just to make sure. 

That’s when I heard a loud bang. 

I quickly looked around because I assumed someone had dropped something while stocking shelves. That’s what it sounded like — like someone was standing at the top of a tall ladder and dropped a box full of these pans.

Then another sound went off.

I realized something wasn’t right and others around me seemed to be equally confused.

Then several more bangs happened, maybe five or six in quick succession. I started to run for the door.

I heard someone yell, “It’s a shooter,” as I flung myself against the double doors leading to the upstairs parking lot. After I pushed through the second set of doors, I saw a woman to the left of me reaching out to pull the door open and come inside. I said, “There’s a shooter. Run.” and pointed away from the building. My voice was muffled as I called to her through my mask. And she looked back at me with pure confusion.

I sprinted. I ran as fast as I could across the parking lot until I got to a fence. Being that this was the second story of the mall, the parking lot of Macy’s doesn’t extend all the way to Cole Road. It wraps around, with a fence which guides cars in either direction. I picked up my phone and called my best friend. She lives near the mall. I thought, “she might know what to do.”

I spun around in a circle, shaking, not knowing where to go. All I could think about was how badly I wanted to get away from the scene. Maybe that was my flight mode that had kicked in, maybe it was cowardice of being too scared to stop and think if others needed help.

Regardless, I stood there and tried to explain to my friend between cries what was happening. I began walking along the back fence toward the front of the mall as she did her best to calm me down and get more information. Two police SUVs came around the corner and cut across the parking lot, the one where I had just been.

A woman drove up next to me and asked, “Do you need help? Is there a shooter inside? Can I help you? Can I take you to your car?”

I told my friend that a woman was going to help me and that I would call her back. I jumped in the passenger seat of her burnt orange truck and she whipped us around, toward the food court side of the mall. We saw another young woman essentially doing the same thing I had been doing seconds earlier. I told her that this woman was helping me and she hopped in the car. We each speedily exchanged stories of where we were, what we heard, what we knew.

The driver, a woman with a kind looking face and eyes and bobbed, grey curly hair, asked us several times if we’d be okay on our own once we got in the area of our cars. We assured her we would and we each got out and ran our separate ways.

By this time, I noticed that police cruisers were already blocking off all entry points to the mall and officers and security detail alike were standing at the main entrance to the mall, waving patrons away. They shouted, “There’s an active shooter inside. Get in your cars and go.”

I remember panicking as I tried to get out of the parking lot. There was a long string of cars in front of me. We were all doing the same thing. What was likely sixty seconds or less felt like ten minutes as I came up to the stoplight at Milwaukee to turn left. Police officers barricaded that entry point as well and the stoplight became clogged.

I called my dad who lives in Weiser while I waited. I cried. I sobbed. I told him about how many people I saw waiting outside — not getting in their cars as the police said to — and I was confused as to why. I told him I was scared and just wanted to get away from the scene as fast as possible.

It’s possible that the police had already apprehended the suspect at that point, but to my knowledge (and according to what I was told by police) there was an active shooter inside. My first thought, darkly, was what if the shooter comes outside and there are all these people here?

Of course, now, I understand many of those people were likely waiting on loved ones to escape. But I was afraid for them.

I got on the freeway headed east and made my way to my house. I called my brother and he told me to meet him at his house. I told him I had to drop off some things at my house, then I’d be over. It’s weird the things that still seem important in the middle of a tragedy.

I had groceries in the trunk from shopping at Trader Joe’s not more than an hour before the incident.

As I closed the garage door behind me and hung up the phone with my brother, I erupted into tears. I shook and screamed. I couldn’t believe it.

Uncontrollable tears streamed down my face as I unloaded four bags of groceries into my unfurnished home. I paced for a few minutes. I took my Boston Terrier out to pee.

When I got back in my car, I realized that my smoothie from earlier was in my cup holder. I didn’t drop it that entire time. I had no recollection of it at all.

Strange, small little details like that escaped me in the midst of my shock. As I said, I had visited two other stores while shopping. I stopped at Williams-Sonoma, which is in the middle of the mall, before I grabbed a smoothie and then headed into Macy’s.

I was sipping on the “Apples n’ Greens” as I walked past Victoria’s Secret and down the hall. Down the hall and up the escalator where a man would be shot mere seconds later. Where a woman would be shot attempting to save my life — the lives of so many in our community. It chills me to think of where the shooter was as I enjoyed my Monday afternoon smoothie and shopping.

I sat there in my car staring at the separated green thing for a minute. Then, I started up the engine and headed to my brother’s house. I told him everything that happened and we tried to make sense of it. We ordered food. I ate and felt better, but then later felt nauseous. We watched the news.

I cried when Mayor McLean expressed her condolences to the community. She said what I wanted to say to everyone who was there with me at the scene of the crime.

I later stopped at my best friend’s house, the one who I had called on the scene of the shooting. I dumped out the smoothie in their sink. It felt as if I was getting rid of any lingering foulness from the day. 

My brain felt foggy. I couldn’t speak anymore. So, I went home and stood in my kitchen for some time. I texted and called people I love. I sat down. I stood up. I watched more news. 

Some friends and family were sending me updates with unfolding information. In the moment, I knew that I couldn’t handle the gravity of what I might read. I had to strengthen myself with rest before I could take on the facts of the case.

I thought distraction might help me, so I tried to watch some shows and silly videos. I periodically cried.

Suddenly it was dark.

I thought a bath might relax me. But, being that I’m in a new home, I’m unfamiliar with the creaks and settlings of it. I climbed in and had my phone on the side of the tub. I was texting some friends to keep me distracted. 

As I shut off the hot water, I heard a thud which sounded like it came from outside. I jumped up and out of the tub, wrapped myself in a towel, and began to investigate.

I stood in the entryway of my house, naked, hair soaking wet, scared again for my life — when the thud exposed itself as the water heater in my garage. I cried again. 

And, even though I knew what it was, as I continued to hear it, a shock of fear coursed through me each time and I had to convince myself that there wasn’t a shooter outside.

Eventually, I slept for a few hours. I went to the gym the next day and someone slammed a locker behind me and I felt the same punch of adrenaline. I wonder how long it’ll be like that. I think about how many others know this same feeling.

I talked to my dad on the phone last night. I said the cliché thing that I’ve heard before in movies, “I just want to go back to normal life.” And I still feel that way. I know there’s really no way that I’ll ever be exactly the same as before, but my dad put into words what I couldn’t express, what I meant to say, “I can’t live in fear.”

Vigil candle
[Photo of a vigil candle]
Photo by Paige Wirta | The Arbiter

I’m traveling soon. I’m visiting friends and family. I want to get back to work. I won’t live in fear. Not like I did that day.

I wish there was more that I could have done. I wish I was as brave as the woman who stopped to help me. Who really knows what the right reaction is? 

I’ve said, “My whole heart goes out to the families of the deceased and all those affected,” and I mean that. But I wish there was something better, deeper that I could say to connect this pang in my heart to those who are also hurting. If only I could hold each and every one of you and we could cry together. 

I guess the closest we’ll get is remembering the heroism and beloved characters of the fallen. I want to say I’m so deeply sorry to those who were injured and scarred. The outreach to me and to those affected has been astonishing, heartwarming and yet tragic that we’re all going through this together.

I’ll never forget Jo and Roberto.

I’ll never forget the woman who stopped for me.

I’ll never forget the injured officer and community members.

Boise will never forget this devastation, but we will become closer as a result. I’ll always watch over my neighbors, my fellow citizens closer than before — with a care I previously had the privilege to forgo. 

I want to become a resource for others as so many have done for me within minutes, hours of this terrible act.

To anyone who has ever experienced a moment like this — I am so sorry. I am here for you. I am here with you. Call on me as your friend, Boise. Call on your community to tighten, not separate. May we all find safety and warm community in the wake of such despair.

If you or someone you know is struggling or needs support, please reach out to

Boise State Health Services & Counseling Services (208) 426-1459

or the Dean of Students Office, (208) 426-1527.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Loni sena

    God Bless to all those who will remeber the scared feelings all the emotions that you are going through. 🙏 God bless to all who lost a loved one. Stay strong and sound for those who need you most.

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