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When a ‘happy place,’ becomes a horror place

Boise man says prayer and professionalism of mall employees, police officers got him through a frightful day at Boise’s Towne Square Mall.

The following story appeared in the November 5 Idaho Catholic Register.

Roxanne and Francis Harlow. (Courtesy photo)

By Gene Fadness


Francis Harlow likes to call Boise’s Towne Square Mall his “happy place.”

Harlow, a Mount Angel seminary graduate and parishioner at St. Mary’s Parish in Boise, is now retired. The victim of a stroke a few years ago, he goes to the mall from his home just off Franklin Street for exercise. He and his wife, Roxanne, live just off Franklin Street east of the mall, so Harlow can either walk or ride his bike there.

Harlow typically gets coffee at the food court before he begins his walk. On Monday, Oct. 25, he got his coffee, and instead of staying in the food court like he usually does, he walked to some soft chairs just outside the entrance to Macy’s.

He did notice a man with short hair and a “vacant stare” walk by him twice, seemingly directionless as to where he wanted to go. Harlow doesn’t know if that was the man who later would open fire on an escalator just outside Macy’s and, minutes later, on an escalator inside Macy’s, killing two people, including a security guard, and injuring two others before police opened fire on him leading to his death a day later.

Not long after sitting down to enjoy his coffee, Harlow remembers hearing two loud banging noises that he, nor any around him, immediately recognized as gunshots. “We all just kind of looked at each other wondering, ‘What was that?’ It sounded like something fell.”

Then came some more loud bangs. “We knew then that is was gunshots and everybody ran,” Harlow said. Not realizing that he left his phone in his chair, Harlow instinctively headed toward the nearest store, Helzberg Diamonds. “I don’t quite remember how I ended up in there, but I do remember my legs were really wobbly.” Five ladies, all employees, quickly guided Harlow through two sets of double doors to a small employee bathroom, where they waited for 90 minutes.

They did little talking and even when they did it was barely above a whisper not wanting to attract attention to a shooter who, for all they knew, could still be wandering the mall.

“I still can’t believe how calm and professional they were,” Harlow said of the store employees. “They were absolutely wonderful, amazing.”

'My thoughts went immediately

to prayer and prayers for Roxanne.'

--Francis Harlow

One of the employees let Harlow use her phone so he could call his wife, Roxanne, the communications director at St. Mary’s Parish in Boise. His call was the first she or anyone in the office had heard about the early afternoon shooting. Roxanne Harlow’s co-workers told her to go home.

“Of course, I didn’t. I headed straight to the mall,” where she and other family members waited in an area outside the mall protected by police. “I was so impressed with how professional the police were,” she said, noting their efforts to keep family members posted and as calm as possible. “Mall employees were out there with us and, of course, they were upset and crying.”

Inside, Francis Harlow could feel the temperature increase in the tiny, cramped bathroom. “It got hotter and hotter, but it didn’t matter because we were safe.”

Harlow said he started praying silently to himself from the moment he was rushed into the bathroom. “My thoughts went immediately to prayer and prayers for Roxanne,” he said. “I used to belong to a charismatic prayer group, and it was common for me to pray in tongues, but I haven’t done so for a long time. But (in that tiny bathroom) when I started praying, it was in tongues. It was if God was telling me it was OK, not to worry, and we were going to be fine.”

When police officers did finally arrive, they led Harlow and others through the Apple store toward a back door that led outside. The scene as they left the cramped bathroom was surreal. “It was like something out of a movie,” he said, noting dozens of officers “all geared up” with weapons and masks. “You couldn’t see their faces too well, but when you looked into their eyes they looked completely calm, which helped us to be calm,” he said.

Both Francis and Roxanne Harlow said they were impressed by the professionalism of the mall employees, who, Roxanne noted, had “obviously been trained,” and the police officers.

On Wednesday, two days after the shooting, the Harlows were back at the mall. “We decided we were going to get back on that horse,” Roxanne said. Harlow got his coffee and sat right where he was when the shooting started. The manager of Helzberg Diamonds came out to greet him. “The manager saw Francis and gave him lots of hugs,” Roxanne said. “I’ve made five new girlfriends,” Harlow said, referring to the other store employees, all of whom, he said, will soon be getting a box of chocolates.

Francis and Roxanne walked through the mall and happened on to a prayer service being held there for the victims and their loved ones. They joined in, sorrowful for the victims and thankful for their safety.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.

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