BUFFALO, NY—In the aftermath of last week's deadly shooting at the Windsor Galleria Mall, many are still struggling to make sense of the indiscriminate murder of 19 innocent people. Though 22-year-old gunman's motives may never be known, some solace can be taken in the amazing story of David Mull, a victim of the bloody rampage who, though seriously injured, heroically dragged himself nearly 50 yards to spare himself the indignity of dying in the shopping center's Yankee Candle retail store.
Mull, whose wife, Brenda, 32, forced him to enter the garish scented-candle store while en route to the food court, said he attempted to run from the shop shortly after hearing the initial gunfire, only to find the killer had moved toward the display of balsam and cedar decorative votives, effectively blocking the exit. The shooter then proceeded to fire a loaded automatic shotgun into the store, striking Mull in the leg and torso and destroying a table full of ceramic potpourri warmers.
"I remember thinking 'This is it, I'm going to die,'" the 34-year-old contractor said from his bed at Buffalo General Hospital, where he is still under observation after sustaining three gunshot wounds, including one that left a bullet lodged in his spine. "Then I looked around at where I was and told myself there was no way in hell I was going to let them find me curled up behind a floor display of Midnight Jasmine Housewarmer jar candles."
"How could this happen to me?" Mull added. "I'm never anywhere near Yankee Candle."
Much of Mull's desperate plight was captured on mall security cameras. In the grainy footage, he can be seen inching his way slowly over the blood-slicked floors and past the contorted bodies of other victims before collapsing unconscious in the entrance of The Sharper Image.
Erie County sheriff's investigator Charles Delaney, who analyzed the surveillance tapes, commended Mull on his resolute determination to save face by dragging his mangled and bloody body out of the tacky candle store.
"Mr. Mull's actions were, quite simply put, an extraordinary act of bravery," Delaney said. "To summon the resolve to pull himself free of Yankee Candle, especially with those types of injuries—it's just awe-inspiring."
The footage also reveals Mull pausing briefly in front of Frederick's of Hollywood, but then doggedly continuing on after a few seconds. Having left his wife, who was bleeding from the neck under a table of Cranberry Chutney reed diffusers, Mull told police he knew, for her sake, he had to keep moving.
"I didn't want the paramedics to find me in a lingerie store by myself and have everyone think I was some kind of pervert," Mull said. "But I just didn't have the strength to go back and drag her body along with me."
"I had to keep going," Mull continued. "I prayed to God that I'd find the Champs Sports store, or at least the Best Buy, before it was too late. If it was my time to go, at least I could go in front of a 52-inch LCD flat-screen HDTV."
Mull cited many reasons for his superhuman feat of courage and strength, not least of which were the life-and-death struggles of fellow victims. While rapidly losing blood and nearing the loss of consciousness, a courageous Mull found the strength to move on and live to tell his tale for those who were not so fortunate.
"Sure, there were times when I wanted to give up," Mull said. "Then I saw a man with half his head blown off fall from the second level and right into a Dress Barn kiosk. It was then and there that I said to myself, 'Dave, you're not gonna go out like that.'"
Although Mull managed to spare himself the humiliation of breathing his last breath in the largest scented-candle retail outlet in the country, he admitted that he still bears the emotional scars from that tragic day.
"I have a hard time sleeping, and sometimes I'll have these really realistic flashbacks, as If I'm in Yankee Candle all over again," Mull said. "When I finally snap out of it, I'm sweating profusely, and I swear I can smell Brazilian passion fruit. I don't think I'll ever get over how close I came to dying in that redolent, pastel-hued hellhole."
Though Mull will never walk again and will require home care for the rest of his life, the widower and former father of two said he considers himself extremely lucky.
"At least I wasn't one of the guys they found in Linens 'n Things," Mull said. "Those poor, poor bastards."
While police have been unable to determine why the shooter abandoned his meal at California Pizza Kitchen to fire indiscriminately on innocent patrons, they have not ruled out as a contributing factor the Vanessa Carlton album playing continuously throughout the mall.