The 4 a.m. chill settles into your bones. You're on a mission, running a well-crafted strategy through your mind again and again. As you visualize the path you'll take into battle, the action draws near. Chuffing warm breath into your hands, you try to stay loose. It's a last-ditch effort to stave off a milieu of emotional and physical states: excitement, fear, adrenaline, fatigue. Now is the time for singular focus.
It's Black Friday.
The line you've been queuing in for the last 45 minutes is starting to morph from orderly to insanity as everyone makes a break for the just-opened store doors. Whether you'll be one of the first few to snag a door prize remains to be seen. It's every shopper for himself. This is war.
We're not sure why ordinarily rational Americans lose their minds at the thought of picking up electronics at big discounts on the day after Thanksgiving. Perhaps the lack of sleep and the adrenaline rush from fighting crowds have something to do with it. To illustrate, we've uncovered 10 fascinating and terrifying Black Friday stories, just in time for your holiday shopping adventures.
It began as any other Black Friday rush, but in 2008 at a Toys R Us in Palm Desert, Calif., something went terribly wrong. Two women began throwing verbal jabs and then actual jabs in the store's electronics department.
Then the two men they were with began fighting and drew handguns. As other shoppers scrambled to safety, the men turned Toys R Us into a scene from the Old West. They chased each other down the store aisles, firing and killing each other (but no one else) during the incident [source: Mehta et al.].
Although a Wal-Mart in Upland, N.Y., was open all night on Thanksgiving 2009, employees had put aside special merchandise that was not to be opened until 5 a.m. on Black Friday. Unfortunately, the bargain hunters weren't willing to wait.
Scores of shoppers began ripping into the shrink-wrapped items hours before they were to be released. Frantic employees called police at 2:44 a.m. for help in controlling the crowds. The rowdy shoppers were all ordered outside and told to line up and wait. They passed the time outside by yelling and screaming and pounding on the store glass. It wasn't until 6 a.m. that order was restored and shoppers were cautiously let back inside in groups of 30 [source: Holmes].
Just after midnight on Black Friday 2011, something went terribly wrong for one shopper in a South Charleston, W.Va., Target store. The 61-year-old man became ill and dropped to the floor -- where he remained as frenzied shoppers stepped over his body on their way to Black Friday bargains.
Eventually, a nurse discovered the ailing man and started performing CPR. An off-duty paramedic also came to the man's aid, and they waited with him for an ambulance to arrive. Although the man was transported to the hospital, he later died. Outraged friends and family said they couldn't fathom why someone didn't help him sooner [source: Kattalia].
No one likes a line cutter. But some people take it to extremes.
While waiting in line at a San Antonio, Texas, Sears at 9 p.m. Thanksgiving night in 2012, a shopper tried to cut in line. When another man objected, the offending line-hopper punched him in the face. The man who took the sucker punch pulled out a handgun, a move he later said he made in self-defense.
The line cutter fled. Police took the gun owner into custody but released him, saying he was within his rights as he had a concealed handgun permit. He was asked to leave the Sears but given a store voucher for his next visit. Amazingly, shopping resumed just 10 minutes after the incident [source: Ley].
Most Black Friday shoppers pick up a few extra items as they browse retailers. One man, however, returned home with far less than he should have.
In 2012, at a Kmart in Springfield, Mass., a man went into the store searching for a flat-screen television. Unfortunately, he left his girlfriend's 2-year-old son in the backseat of his car while he shopped at 1:30 a.m. Although he did find a bargain-worthy TV, he abandoned the sleeping boy -- and his car -- in the Kmart parking lot.
Police later found the man at home apparently watching his new big-screen TV. They were unsure how he was able to transport it home without his car [source: Caron].
Unfortunately, shoplifters aren't a rarity. But when two women decided to steal goods from an Old Navy in Holland Township, Mich., on Black Friday in 2012, they took it a step farther. The shoplifters were stopped by a store detective in an adjacent parking lot after exiting the store with their stolen items. The detective took the goods, and the pair fled to a nearby vehicle.
But they didn't go far. As the officer attempted to write down their license plate, they circled back. One of the women pulled a gun, held up the detective and seized the merchandise. But not for long. Police caught the women and arrested them, while they were left holding the proverbial bag [source: Tunison].
In the rush of a Black Friday morning in 2012, a 62-year-old man took to the roads. He'd already stood in line for five hours at Wal-Mart to buy his grandson a stereo, only to discover it was sold out. So, he drove his vehicle to another Wal-Mart in hopes of finding the coveted item still on store shelves.
Finding his route stymied by a driver who, in his estimation, was going too slow, he swerved back and forth, tailgated and eventually pulled alongside the other car. At that point, he pulled out a gun and fired a shot at the driver.
Unluckily for him, the driver of the car was a woman whose husband was an off-duty sergeant and happened to be in another car just behind her. The policeman pulled him over and arrested him. Grandpa's excuse for his hair-trigger actions? He wanted to "scare her into moving" [source: Fowler].
Here's one way to make sure you get your hands on the goodies: Keep the rest of the crowd away with some pepper spray.
That's what one woman did in her bid to snag a video game console on sale at a Wal-Mart in 2011. She sprayed about 10 fellow Black Friday shoppers, and somehow was able to pay for her items and leave without being stopped [source: CNN].
Outside a Best Buy in Augusta, Ga., on Black Friday 2010, some U.S. Marines were collecting donations for Toys for Tots. Inside the Best Buy, a man was attempting to smuggle a laptop computer out of the store under his jacket.
Staff spotted the shoplifter and confronted him. The man dropped the laptop, brandished a knife and ran out the door. One of the Marines attempted to stop him, and the robber stabbed him in the back. Other Marines and store staff pounced on the shoplifter and held him until police arrived. The wounded Marine eventually recovered [sourced: Cain and Emerson].
Wal-Mart features quite a bit in our Black Friday horror stories but none worse than this one. In 2008, a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death after a mob of Black Friday shoppers broke through the doors and rushed the store. Four shoppers, including a pregnant woman, were also injured.
Two thousand people waited outside for the 5 a.m. opening, pushing against the door. Nervous employees formed a human chain to try to slow them down. To no avail. The mob broke the door down and kept running to get the bargains, knocking down employees in the process.
The man's death did little to stop the madness. Shoppers were outraged when told to leave because someone had died. When the Long Island, N.Y., store reopened at 1 p.m., it was full within minutes.
"I look at these people's faces and I keep thinking one of them could have stepped on him," said a Wal-Mart employee, referring to his dead coworker. "How could you take a man's life to save $20 on a TV?" [sources: Gould, Trapasso and Schapiro].
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Author's Note: 10 Black Friday Horror Stories
I'm a reformed Black Friday shopper. When I was young and single, and not quite so wise, I would rise at 3 a.m. to join my brothers' wives in an annual predawn bargain ritual. We nearly froze, managed to laugh (at ourselves and others), drank coffee, and deployed in separate and strategic directions in each store. In the end, I'm not really sure I saved much money, but I did have fun. Until I realized how much amusement I could have with a PayPal account, a good Internet connection and a handful of promo codes -- without ever changing out of my pajamas.
- Caine, Bianca; Emerson, LaTina. "Shoplifting Suspect Stabs Marine, Police Say." The Augusta Chronicle. Nov. 26, 2010. (Oct. 31, 2013) http://chronicle.augusta.com//latest-news/2010-11-26/stabbing-reported-near-best-buy
- Caron, Matt. "Two-year-old Found in Springfield Parking Lot." WWLP. Nov. 23, 2012. (Oct. 31, 2013) http://www.wwlp.com/news/local/hampden/dad-leaves-child-in-car-to-buy-tv
- CNN. "Violence Mars Black Friday." Nov. 25, 2011. (Oct. 31, 2013) http://www.cnn.com/2011/11/25/business/money-black-friday-incidents/
- Fowler, Bob. "Black Friday Fury: Shopper Jailed for Road Incident." Knox News. Nov. 26, 2012. (Oct. 31, 2013) http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2012/nov/26/black-friday-fury-shopper-jailed-for-road/?comments_id=2450735
- Gould, Joe, Trapasso, Clare and Schapiro Rich. "Worker dies at Long Island Wal-Mart after being trampled in Black Friday stampede." New York Daily News. Nov, 28, 2008. (Oct. 31, 2013). http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/worker-dies-long-island-wal-mart-trampled-black-friday-stampede-article-1.334059#ixzz2jo37eEA2
- Grad, Shelby. "Cerritos Mall Food Court Placed on Lockdown After Fight, Reports of Gunshots." LA Times. Nov. 26, 2010. (Oct. 31, 2013) http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2010/11/cerritos-mall-food-court-placed-on-lockdown-after-fight-reports-of-gunshots.html
- Holmes, Baxter. "Black Friday Wal-Mart in Upland Temporarily Closes After 'Fighting Inside.'" LA Times. Nov. 27, 2009. (Oct. 30, 2013) http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/money_co/2009/11/black-friday-Wal-Mart-in-upland-temporarily-closes-after-fighting-inside.html
- Kattalia, Kathryn. "Man Dies After Collapsing in Shopping Center During Black Friday." New York Daily News. Nov. 27, 2011. (Oct. 31, 2013) http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/man-dies-collapsing-shopping-center-black-friday-article-1.983040
- Ley, Ana. "Shopper who pulled gun at San Antonio mall within rights, cops say." San Antonio Express-News. Nov. 22, 2012. (Nov. 5, 2013) http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Shopper-who-pulled-gun-at-San-Antonio-mall-within-4060598.php
- Mehta, Seema, Maltais, Michelle and Yoshino, Kimi. "Panic at Gunfire in Toy Store." LA Times. Nov. 29, 2008. (Oct. 30, 2013) http://articles.latimes.com/2008/nov/29/local/me-toystoreshooting29
- Re, Gregg. "Black Friday Mayhem Apocalypse Death Zone Roundup: 2 Shot, 1 Gun Brandished, Target Targeted." The Daily Caller. Nov. 24, 2012. (Oct. 31, 2013) http://dailycaller.com/2012/11/24/black-friday-mayhem-apocalypse-death-zone-roundup-2-shot-1-gun-brandished-target-targeted/
- Tunison, John. "Black Friday Shoplifters in Holland Township Turns Violent When Handgun is Drawn." Mlive. Nov. 23, 2012. (Oct. 31, 2013) http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2012/11/black_friday_shoplifters_in_ho.html