The Jakarta Post
May 15, 1998. Hundreds of people flooded on to the two escalators and one stairway. Some were trying to reach the second floor where the Yogya department store and other stores were located while others were struggling to go down.
Many were trampled and had fainted. But most were blinded by the goods they wanted to loot from the shops.
'I was stuck in the middle; it took almost an hour until I managed to reach the first floor again. It was a great relief,' said Arif Fadilah, a security officer at the then Central Plaza, now known as Mall Klender in East Jakarta, as he recalled the day thousands of people entered the shopping mall.
Arif had failed to reach the police, there was no backup as requested to safeguard the mall. He recalled that besides 15 security guards, there were only a district head, two beat officers and one soldier hanging around the mall that day, powerless as they watched wave after wave of people, come and go carrying looted goods.
People kept coming from various parts of the city. The crowd spilled onto a nearby railway across the mall, blocking the line and forcing the trains serving the Bekasi'Jakarta route to halt. Hundreds of stranded passengers joined in the looting.
Arif had no idea that the mob would grow that fast. He said the crowd had begun with two groups of students throwing rocks at each other just a few hours earlier.
Mall Klender building and maintenance manager Amiril, a local resident, admitted he had also picked up a pair of shoes and then sold them for Rp 30,000 (US$2.50), although he hadn't the courage to take something from inside the mall. 'I might not have survived,' he said.
The mall was then set on fire, similar to incidents such as in Ciledug, bordering South Jakarta and Tangerang. The May riots inflicted losses of at least Rp 2.5 trillion. Thirteen markets, 2,479 shop-houses, 40 malls, 1,604 shops, 45 garages, 383 private offices, nine filling stations, eight public buses and minivans, 1,119 cars, 821 motorcycles, and 1,026 houses were destroyed during the riots. The violence claimed 2,244 lives, according to the 2002 Volunteers' Team for Humanity.
The largest number of deaths occurred in and around the Yogya department store and supermarket with 288 killed.
Arif recalled that once a transgendered woman came and asked him to take her to the eastern part of the second floor of the damaged building.
She had said she was asked in dream by a friend who had perished there to put two bottles of drinking water at that site. Arif then took her to fulfill what seemed to be her dead friend's last wish.
Amiril acknowledged many horrific stories circulated regarding the mall. He had witnessed nothing untoward, he said, but organized monthly prayer sessions dedicated primarily to the souls of those who perished there. The sessions continue to this day.
'Praise God, we've encountered nothing disturbing since then,' Amiril said.
Currently, Mall Klender is under the management of PT Jakarta Intiland. It has a Ramayana department store and supermarket as anchor tenant, and 21 other tenants ranging from coffee shops and cellular phone shops to a bookshop and children's playground.
Apparently people still remember the May riots but they have chosen to move on.