Bellevue Square reopens after COVID-19 closure, looting

BELLEVUE, Wash. — Bellevue Square re-opened Tuesday after being closed for nearly three months. The reopening comes a month after hundreds of looters raided the mall and stole millions of dollars worth of merchandise.

Kemper Freeman's dad built the mall 74 years ago. The damage by looters was unimaginable. "The stealing that went on right here in front of everybody was appalling and something I'll never forget. It's not fair. It's not right. It's not legal," said Kemper Freeman, the CEO of Kemper Development. "Nobody was physically hurt, but millions of dollars were stolen. It's not a little crime. It would be right up there with one of the bigger bank robberies in the United States. To have nothing happen would be dead wrong."

Bellevue police say an organized crime ring coordinated the looting and purposely timed it to hit as officers were managing a protest over the death of George Floyd.

Investigators say they identified the ring leader because his tattoo was caught on camera. The public sent 10,000 videos and photos to detectives. Along with stolen property, drugs, hand guns and ammunition, police also recovered an AK-47 with a silencer that was stored in a crib.

In the last month, at least 100 looters have been identified.

The broken glass is fixed, the store shelves are restocked, and today socially distanced shoppers are back.

Before reopening, Kemper Development hired a hygienist to help them create safe shopping practices during the pandemic.

"We put in a complete ultra violet filter system in our air handling so the air that's being circulated in here is purified over and over again," explained Freeman who also said they pump outside air into the mall for a couple of hours every morning to flush it out.

KIRO-7 saw employees cleaning surfaces including railings and tables.  Masks are required for shoppers and employees. There are marks on the floor and signs reminding people to stay 6 feet apart.  Stores have occupancy limits to keep shoppers separated.

Bellevue Square is the second largest gathering place on a daily basis in the state, after Sea-Tac Airport. And it is now back open with new safety standards due to COVID-19. On Tuesday, 70% of the stores were reopened. Mall officials say the best way to find out what is open is to check their website.

“It’s not a wonderful memory looking backwards, but to be open today, we’re really excited,” said Freeman.