Two South Jersey Wal-Mart customers who heard a racist message broadcast over the store's public address system say the whole ordeal is no laughing matter.
Sheila Ellington and Virginia Tinsley were shopping inside the Washington Township Wal-Mart along Rt. 42 in Turnersville, N.J. just before 5 p.m. on Sunday when they say a man came over the PA system and said: "Attention Wal-Mart customers: All black people leave the store now."
"It was a disgusting comment," Ellington said. "Once I heard that, I was absolutely shocked and appalled."
The man was very calm when he broadcast the message, according to Tinsley.
"He said it as if he had a million dollars for us," the Washington Township resident said. "He wasn't nervous, [he was] really calm."
The women said the store's manager immediately addressed his shock about the incident to a large crowd of angry shoppers who gathered in the front of the store. He then made an apology over the intercom.
Tinsley said her husband then called 911 to report what had happened.
Washington Township Police and the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.
There are 25 phones throughout the 206,000 square-foot supercenter that have access to the paging system, according to the Gloucester County Prosecutors Office.
Officials say they reviewed the store's surveillance system and did not find anyone using the phones. But they do say some of the phones are outside of the camera's reach.
Bill Mitchell, a former Wal-Mart employee who says he worked at the Washington Township store for five years, told NBC Philadelphia that anyone could walk up to one of the phones and make a page.
"You go there, tap the phone, hit the key a couple of times and it goes 'beep, beep, beep' and and you just intercom them that way," he said.
Mitchell took pictures of the phones used in the store. They are located throughout the shopping area and have instructions clearly printed on the front. However, Mitchell says he doesn't recall instructions on how to use the PA system being printed on the phone.
"They could do better things to secure those phones, but they don't follow those protocols," Mitchell said. "That's Wal-Mart."
But the women aren't sure it was just a shopper pulling a prank.
"If it were a prank, there's only one person laughing and it's certainly not us," Ellington said.
Almost 700 people work at the 24-hour store, most of who are part-time employees, officials said.
Wal-Mart issued this statement Wednesday:
"We're just as appalled by this as our customers. Whoever did this is just wrong and acted in an inappropriate manner. Clearly, this is completely unacceptable to us and to our customers."
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Store management is now working to limit which phones can access the PA system.
As for Ellington and Tinsley, they are now boycotting the store and hope someone will be brought to justice soon.
"I think they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Ellington said.