LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A Missouri man and former Amazon employee accused of prompting a mass evacuation at Westfield Century City mall plead not guilty Tuesday to arson and other charges.
Nicholas Kyle Oates made an appearance at Airport Branch Courthouse for allegedly setting a fire inside the Amazon store at the mall on March 15 and pointing a gun at a store employee. He has been charged with arson, burglary and assault.
Police, fire crews and ultimately a bomb squad responded to the scene before 1 p.m., triggering an evacuation of the upscale shopping center and the temporary lockdown of offices and businesses near the mall.
Oates was allegedly seen entering the mall armed with a handgun, when police say Oates went to the children’s section of the Amazon store last Friday and set books on fire. He pulled a handgun on a store employee who confronted him and then lit additional items on fire before fleeing the scene, according to prosecutors.
Around 3 a.m. Saturday, security personnel at the mall located a possible vehicle they suspected had been driven by Oates.
The car was subsequently impounded, which led authorities to identify Oates as the possible suspect.
Investigators now say Oates was a “disgruntled [former] employee unhappy with Amazon” who was “taking out his revenge in this bizarre and very dangerous manner”.
At a news conference Tuesday, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said his officers worked seamlessly with security to evacuate the mall.
Once the evacuations were complete, mall security cameras allowed investigators to locate the gunman.
“Based upon the tenuous review of countless hours of closed circuit TV cameras and really relying upon the backbone of what I believe is one of the finest security systems in a modern mall environment, security from Westfield was able to identify not just the suspect but track his movement back to a vehicle he had left there at the premise,” said Moore.
Oates is due back in court April 3.