Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Anna Stebbins pulled up to the Walmart in Palmdale on Thursday night and came upon a pre-Black Friday scene she had heard about before, but had never experienced at the megastore:
Hordes of shoppers were shouting in each other’s faces in the parking lot, and a crowd of more than 100 people gathered around them with their phones fixed on the confrontation.
Stebbins and about seven other deputies — the Palmdale station’s entire Thanksgiving evening shift, by her estimate — stepped out of their patrol cars and tried to break up the fracas.
“It was a really crazy scene,” she said.
She spoke with employees working the “doorbuster” event, who told her they didn’t know whether the warring factions were yelling over a specific item, or if the fight was about something else.
Though no injuries were reported, the Palmdale scene was the latest chapter from the darker side of America’s Thanksgiving tradition.
At least 11 people have died due to Black Friday-related injuries throughout the U.S. since 2006, including a Long Island Walmart employee who was trampled by a mob of shoppers in 2008.
The chaos has become so common during the sales that even the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued safety guidelines for stores to protect employees.
The scuffle at the Palmdale Walmart began inside the store around 6:30 p.m., authorities said. Store employees told deputies they initially thought they’d calmed the melee, but that it only moved outside.
One of the people in the fight was said to have had a gun, Stebbins said, but deputies found no weapon at the scene. No arrests were made, she said.
“Emotions were high last night,” she said. “But they didn’t tell us what started it. They were just way too angry.”
Stebbins said it seemed like the fight was between two families who kept calling reinforcements to join them in the lot.
“I’ve been to Walmart on Black Friday. I know they set the store up a certain way, they move things around,” she said. “They put certain items that are doorbusters — like a TV — in a grocery area. They try to make it as calm as possible.”
Authorities temporarily closed one entrance to the Walmart, but the store remained open, Stebbins said.
In California, several people have died and many others have been injured during or following Black Friday sales.
Two women came to blows at a Palm Desert Toys R Us store in 2008, prompting the men they were with to also start arguing.
The younger of the two lifted up his shirt and flashed a handgun, pulling the grip from his baggy pants pocket. The other man yanked out his own handgun and started chasing him down the aisle and firing, witnesses said.
Both men were killed.
A man from San Bruno was charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter in 2013 after a Black Friday rollover crash killed two of his daughters and injured a CHP officer. Authorities said he had been driving on three hours’ sleep.
Retailers strive to maintain order on some of the year's busiest days, and Walmart is no stranger to such chaos. In 2011, a woman at a Porter Ranch store pepper-sprayed several customers in what authorities described as a "shopping rage" incident.
In recent years, Walmart has worked with crowd management experts to develop Black Friday plans on the store level.
Each location has spaced out its special sale products to smooth traffic flow. Walmart also has a mobile app that lets shoppers see a store's layout to help them navigate.
“You’ve got families that go out in packs to go shop,” Stebbins, the deputy, said. “Something happens and the whole family jumps in, and that's what happened last night ... that was quite the scene to see.”