Man in masked costume with toy long gun at Omaha malls sparks fear, outrage

Shooter costume at mall kids event stirs outrage
Posted at 11:54 AM, Oct 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-30 15:30:39-04

A man who wore a costume with a mask, duffel bag and toy long gun said he didn't mean to scare anyone at the children's events he attended at two Omaha malls on Friday.

Several parents at Oak View and Westroads mall events Friday night were concerned about the person they saw outfitted in a black hooded robe and mask and carrying a duffel bag and long gun that appeared not to have the orange tip on the end to indicate it was fake.

Omaha police were called and determined there was not a threat.

The man who wore the costume says he didn't mean any harm and was surprised by the reaction.

Hugo Mendoza says he modeled his Halloween costume after the 2010 movie, "The Town," staring Ben Affleck. He said he didn't mean to scare anyone and was surprised to find the picture went viral.

"It's a costume," Mendoza said. "I mean, if it was something bad, why would they sell it? I was there to have a good time with my daughters and my girlfriend. I wasn't there to scare little kids or make people feel uncomfortable."

Mendoza said his toy gun was purchased at a local costume store. And while it wasn't visible from all angles, it did have an orange tip.

Dozens of families, including children, attended Friday evening's Monster MashBash held at OakView Mall in conjunction with Southwest YMCA.

Desirae Anson said her night at Oak View Mall with her family was cut short when Mendoza's costume made her uncomfortable.

"Myself, I know nothing about guns," Anson said. "I don't know what real guns look like. And all I know is that the orange tip and it wasn't orange. So I was just like okay he has a duffel bag. Lets get out."Amber Hall said seeing his costume at Westroads Mall brought back memories from a decade ago.

"In 2007, I was going through the Omaha Police Department recruit academy and, as part of that, we watched the mall, the Von Maur shooting," Hall said. "The videos, the radio calls, since then even now, that's all that's ringing through my head."

Hall said she wished she would have said something to Mendoza when she saw him.

"He also had this duffel bag," Hall said. "I mean, if he would have set it down, that would even have been suspicious too you know?"

GGP, who owns both Westroads and Oak View malls, issued the following statement: "Oak View Mall does not allow any form of mask, prop or costume deemed inappropriate or offensive." 

Many parents are reacting on social media, calling the costume insensitive. Baker said she called mall security and rushed her children out of the event once she saw the person.

OPD officer Gregory O'Neil confirmed police were dispatched to Oak View Mall last night about the person in the costume. Officers checked the entire mall and parking lot, he said, but the person in the costume had already left.

O'Neil said officers talked to mall security and store owners, but no report was filed as officers could find no apparent danger and no people concerned enough to talk to police about the incident.

April Baker, who took the photo of the man that was initially shared on social media, said she later learned from other parents it was a man wearing the costume as a joke.

"Who does that?" Baker said. "He never should have been allowed in. The costume could trigger people who have survived a mass shooting. In the world we live in now, he should have never thought to wear that around children."