Double Murder in Boca Raton Retail Parking Lot

Days before Christmas, shoppers were paying closer attention to those safety rules after a woman and her young daughter were found bound and shot to death in a Town Center at Boca Raton parking lot early Thursday.

And they weren't the only ones being more vigilant. In the wake of the killings, some law enforcement agencies and mall management companies ramped up their efforts to help customers feel secure during the busiest shopping season of the year.

But while people were shocked by the double homicide at what's regarded by many as a safe and affluent mall, it wasn't going to change their holiday shopping agendas.

"We're not scared to go out," said Philip Williams, who was at the Mall at Wellington Green on Friday with his sons, Anthony and Wyatt, to take a photo with Santa. "Just keep my eyes open. Don't take for granted this peaceful place we've gotten used to around here."

That peace was shattered Thursday morning when Nancy Bochicchio and her 7-year-old daughter, Joey, were found dead in their SUV, the engine still idling.

Most malls already had increased security for the holiday season. But the killings prompted even more. The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office sent a mounted patrol and a canine unit to the Mall at Wellington Green to assist uniformed and plainclothes officers who normally patrol there.

At the Town Center mall, about a half-dozen police cars and several security cars dotted the parking lot. Boca Raton police said more officers were patrolling Town Center and other shopping plazas.

"It's the holiday season. Since this horrible crime happened we want people to feel they can safely go shopping," said Boca Raton Officer Sandra Boonenberg.

Malls and stores also were trying to make their customers feel safe. Retailers don't need fear to slow down what was already predicted to be the worst holiday shopping season in five years. The deaths have prompted Pembroke Lakes Mall to consider additional off-duty police officers, general manager Jim Ralston said. The mall has already increased its outdoor lighting and installed a security camera system that monitors parking lots and common areas.

Area mall managers said foot traffic at the malls is better than expected, and they're hopeful that the tragedies at Town Center won't keep people from doing their last-minute holiday shopping.

"I would hope that this is an isolated incident," said Melissa Milroy, marketing manager at The Galleria mall in Fort Lauderdale. "I would hope that it doesn't discourage people from going out."

But the news of the homicides likely will hurt the Town Center this shopping season.

"I guarantee that this story of a woman and her daughter found dead in their car is going to impact sales," said Chris McGoey, a national security and crime prevention expert.

Still, shoppers continued to hit the stores at most area malls Friday with few reservations.

"I've got other stuff on my mind," said Genevieve McBryan, at the Sawgrass Mills mall in Sunrise. "I don't think any one incident is going to stop me from coming to the mall. I'm not going to hide in my house."

Others said they already take routine precautions, like being aware of their surroundings, not carrying too much cash or valuables and not being distracted while walking to their cars. As Ukeylla Christian walked into Sawgrass Mills on Friday, she talked about how she'd fight a purse snatcher for her Louis Vuitton handbag.

"The economy is bad and people are desperate at this time," said the Pembroke Pines resident, who only shops during the day. "It makes me more cautious."

This week's killings certainly weren't the first time violence has touched local shoppers.

In March, Randi Gorenberg was last seen on a security camera, leaving the Town Center mall 38 minutes before gunshots were heard and her body was pushed out of her SUV west of Delray Beach. Her killing remains unsolved.

Last Christmas Eve, a gang fight led to gunfire at the Boynton Beach Mall, killing one man and sending customers diving for cover.

In 2004, a Hialeah couple were found dead inside their running pickup truck in front of a Pembroke Pines Target.

For Susan Edwards, news of the double homicide hit particularly close to home. The Parkland resident was a victim in 2000 of the infamous "Rolex Bandit" who robbed more than 40 women at Boca Raton shopping centers, including Town Center, threatening to shoot them if they didn't give up their jewelry.

After the robbery, Edwards and a handful of other victims walked the parking lot and handed out fliers to warn shoppers. She said officials with Simon Property Group, which manages the mall, responded to her request for more security by distributing vouchers for valet parking to her and several other victims. She still thinks the mall's security is woefully inadequate.

"It's only money that is going to make them change their ways," Edwards said. "People are not going to stop shopping there. Within three months it will all be forgotten."

Retail security experts say shoppers often can prevent incidents by being more alert. Carjackers strike when shoppers aren't paying attention to their surroundings or talking on their cell phone. And often, a carjacker will strike just before a person enters or exits their vehicle, McGoey said, noting that 98 percent of the time the victim doesn't see the perpetrator.

"Be alert," McGoey said. "It's like going to the jungle. You've got to pay attention to what's around you."

Shoppers should visualize a 25-foot circle around them at all times, and pay attention to who comes into the circle, said Gary Frechette, director of security at The Gardens mall in Palm Beach Gardens. If someone or something looks suspicious, shoppers should avoid walking into the situation.

"There's no need to be paranoid or scared, but you do need to be aware," he said. Simon officials declined to comment, aside from a written statement by Joe Cilia, the Town Center mall manager, promising beefed-up security.

"We will also sustain the substantial security presence we have at our property on an ongoing basis to maintain a safe and secure environment for our shoppers and employees," Cilia wrote.

Staff Writers Nancy L. OthĂłn and Rachael Joyner and Staff Researchers Barbara Hijek and William Lucey contributed to this report.


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