The looters left Eastover Mall long before Stacy Riley returned to his Radio Shack shop yesterday afternoon, but their residue still surrounded him. Broken glass lay in piles on the floor, dustless shelves were empty, and dozens of slushy bootprints were visible on the windows.
"You can see how many there were," Riley said, pointing at the bootprints. "They came even after I was in here with a security guard. We put the window back up, and they tried to kick it in again. It was frightening. There was nothing the police could do about it."
The Radio Shack had been stripped of thousands of dollars of merchandise. Like six other stores in the East-over Mall, it was attacked Monday by gangs of teen-agers who prowled the mall for hours kicking in windows, grabbing what they could carry, and ignoring efforts by snow-bound police to stop them.
In all, police said, 37 businesses in Prince George's County were looted or vandalized in the 24 hours following the weekend snowstorm, many of them by crowds.
It was bad, Riley said. "The police would go to one end of the mall, so the looters would go to the other end and kick a window in. They did a job on us. All I can do now is count my losses."
Between Tuesday morning and Wednesday morning Eastover Mall was closed, guarded by security police and six state troopers with dogs. When it opened again yesterday, its merchants and managers had many losses to count.
The worst damage, for some, was not monetary. "I know it's just a shopping center, but I was deeply hurt by this," said Bill DeVincent, the East-over manager.
"We've really tried to be a community-oriented place, a place where the community could gather and feel at home. We thought we had won respect here, that we had our place. This has really shocked us."
"You know, we know every wino and delinquent around here," DeVincent said, "and they know us. Another operation might bust their heads in, but we don't, because we care about being a good part of the community. I never thought they would do this."
In the last two years, the managers of Eastover spent thousands of dollars improving its facilities and bringing in new tenants. They held gospel festivals and popcorn parties for school children. An estimated 80 percent of their customers walked to the mall from nearby neighborhoods along South Capitol Street, and there had not been a robbery or break-in at Eastover's 50 shops in 18 months.
Then, at about 3 p.m. Monday, gangs of youths began appearing in the mall parking lot, wading through huge snowdrifts toward the shops. Only two officers from the private K-9 security force were on duty.
"They broke into Radio Shack first," said Capt. Bruce Byran, who commands the mall security force. "Then when the Radio Shack manager showed up and the police went to take a report from him, they broke into Penney's.
"The police were basically immobilized then," Byran said. "After about a half-hour we got one county officer and one of our men down there in a four wheel drive truck they had borrowed. But there wasn't much they could do."
For almost seven hours, the looters roamed the mall area, virtually undisturbed. "They were not out to be destructive," said Byran. "It was a basic looting type of thing. It was kick the window, go in and grab the goods, and run. Most of them were on foot."
"They were in gangs, 5 to 7 gangs of 6 to 10 each," said Riley, who stayed in his store until 2 a.m. "Most of them were teen-agers, some were girls. They weren't drunk, they were just greedy."
The looters broke into Radio Shack and Penney's for stereo and television sets, People's Drug Store for watches and cameras, Junior Mode Bootery for shoes, and Wigs Store and Discount Mart for various items.