Montgomery County police said Saturday that social media speculation about a spate of attacks on women at Westfield Montgomery mall in Bethesda is “misinformation.”
In a post that gained traction on NextDoor this week, Bethesda resident Allan Freedman claimed that there have “been 10 assaults at Montgomery Mall by teens against women in the past three months.”
The post said his son saw “five young men attack a woman on the top deck of the parking lot” and mentioned another alleged attack days earlier that left a girl with serious injuries.
In an interview this week, Freedman said his 18-year-old son was getting ready for his shift at J. Chow’s Chicken, Ribs & Salads around noon on Sunday when he saw the incident and called 911. When police arrived, his son went to his shift so he’s not sure what happened next, Freedman said.
In an email to Bethesda Beat, Montgomery County police spokeswoman Shiera Goff said: “Unfortunately, a lot of misinformation has been spread in the last few days. There has not been a spate of attacks on women at Westfield Montgomery.”
She said that since May, police have responded to calls involving “shoplifting, assaults involving individuals known to one another, and domestic-related incidents.”
The most recent calls to the mall have been for shoplifting and “a fight between juveniles,” she said.
The fight between the minors occurred on Aug. 21, the same day Freedman said his son saw the “attack” in the parking garage.
“The claims by certain individuals cannot be corroborated by MCPD,” Goff wrote, referencing claims of more frequent assaults.
Data compiled by the police department show there have been 187 calls for service from the mall this year, 108 of which were for shoplifting. Nineteen were for assault, five of which occurred in August, according to the data.
During the same time period in 2021, there were 145 calls to police, five of which were for assaults. And in 2020, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, there were 115 calls for service, three of which were for assault, according to the data.
Freedman said in an interview on Saturday afternoon he was “relieved” to hear there hasn’t been a significant increase in assaults at the mall recently. He said he had felt compelled to warn his neighbors on NextDoor after his son witnessed the fight and they had heard of another serious incident there.
“When I heard about two incidents and the potential for more, I felt the need to put it on NextDoor. I felt the need to let my neighbors know … if there’s some kind of issue going on to just be aware,” Freedman said. “I’m sure it scared some people away from going to the mall … but I felt like it was important for people to know if there was even a 50/50 chance it could be true.”
He acknowledged “it may not be as bad as it might have initially appeared” but that “there’s always value in people at least having their street sense on and not be walking blindly through” parking lots or areas that are not secure.
The concern about the mall comes as Montgomery County and the Washington, D.C., region have struggled with increases in violent crime. The county recorded more homicides in 2021 than at any point in the past three decades. Earlier this month, downtown Bethesda retailers and residents shared with Bethesda Beat their concerns about a spike in late-night crime.
The mall’s security department referred questions to the mall’s communications office, as did the managers of several stores asked for comment on Saturday.
In a statement, Westfield Montgomery said safety is the company’s “highest priority.”
“The safety and well-being of the community and everyone visiting and working at Westfield Montgomery is our highest priority. We are working closely with The Montgomery County Department of Police and are grateful for their support and partnership in providing the safest environment possible at the shopping center.”