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ALLEN — Dalila Osornia’s younger sister asked her to drive her to the Allen Premium Outlets on Saturday to buy her favorite air freshener from Bath & Body Works. The ones that are shaped like flowers and have a light that brightens up a dark room with its glow.
But Osornia’s boyfriend had gotten the day off from work, so she told her sister “maybe tomorrow.”
Leah Wittsche said she thought about packing the stroller and dressing her 3-year-old and 1-year-old sons for a day at the mall, but decided maybe a day with grandma playing outside on a sunny weekend day would be more fun.
Vivian Kanu, who frequents the outlet mall on the weekends, said she was very close to leaving her house but decided to relax and lounge on her couch instead.
Later that day, Kanu received a call from her cousin who was in a panic, asking her if she was OK and if she was at home. That’s when she learned about the mass shooting a few miles away that she and other Allen residents say has destroyed the sense of safety that drew them to this fast-growing Dallas suburb.
“I never would have imagined something like that would have happened here,” Kanu, 37, said.
Osornia heard about the shooting from her sister: A gunman with an AR-15-style rifle killed eight people and wounded at least seven others at the Allen Premium Outlets before he was fatally shot by police. To the 23-year-old medical assistant, it was “unfathomable.”
“You think of Allen as the safest place ever. Nothing bad happens here — nothing like this,” she said.
Wittsche, a 30-year-old stay-at-home mom, said she was sitting on the grass in her mother’s backyard playing with her kids when her phone pinged with the news.
“Once I heard, I got sick to my stomach. I was crying,” she said. “That could have been me and my boys.”
The shooter, a man in his early 30s, is believed to have had ties to white supremacist groups; law enforcement are still investigating the attack and have not disclosed a possible motive.
A security guard, an engineer and a 3-year-old were among the victims of the shooting. Of the eight who died, half were Asian American.
“I don’t know when I will feel safe again”
In the 1990s, Allen was still a small town of about 20,000 people about 25 miles north of booming Dallas. Named after former Texas attorney general and railroad promoter Ebenezer Allen, its main claim to fame before Saturday was being the site of what may have been Texas’ first train robbery in 1878, committed by the infamous outlaw gang leader Sam Bass.
Allen became a suburban boomtown and is now home to nearly 107,000 people, including a fast-growing Asian American community that makes up close to 18% of the city’s population.
Locals say it still feels like a small town. They use words like “tranquil” and “family feel” to describe Allen, where neighborhoods are packed with two-story brick homes — many of them priced over $500,000 — and framed by neatly trimmed lawns shaded by oaks and pine and magnolia trees. Kids on bikes glide over the sidewalks; people walk their dogs in the evening after work.
Some residents said that Allen feels so secure they don’t feel the need to lock their doors or set home alarms.
And the Allen Outlet Mall is the place to be on the weekends. “On the weekends, you treat yourself and go on a shopping spree,” said a woman who was attending Monday’s memorial for the shooting victims.
The shooting changed that for many residents.
“That feeling of safety is gone. It’s shattered,” Kanu said. “I don’t know when I will feel safe again if something like this can happen in this small community.”
Kanu was visiting the busy post office on Monday but said, “Even to run an errand now, to go to the post office, is scary to me.”
A few miles away at the Allen Public Library, Funda Kaynak, 39, watched her 1-year-old daughter, who was pulling books one by one from the shelves and stacking them on the floor.
Kaynak, who lives in McKinney, less than 15 minutes from the Allen outlet mall, said she was planning a trip to the mall Saturday too, but instead went to a Turkish festival in Richardson.
“If something would have happened …” Kaynak said, as she held her daughter and fought back tears. “This was just unexpected and I feel so, so bad … I am heavy hearted.”
Wittsche was also at the library Monday, sitting on the floor of the children’s section with her two sons playing with colorful wooden building blocks and toys shaped like fish and other sea creatures.
Wittsche said she can’t help but feel nervous. The night of the shooting, she couldn’t sleep. She kept waking up, walking to her boys’ room and checking if they were asleep and safe.
“My viewpoint of this town is different now,” Wittsche said. “If I go to the library, are we safe there? If I go to the grocery store, are we safe there?
“We are not safe anywhere,” she said. “We don’t know … anything can happen at any time.”
Alex Ford contributed to this story.
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