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Shootings, pepper-spray attack mar Wal-Mart Black Friday sales

Authorities are searching for a woman accused of pepper-spraying other shoppers Thursday night at the Wal-Mart in Porter Ranch so that she could grab more discounted merchandise

As shoppers converged on retailers around the country looking for Black Friday deals, authorities reported scattered problems.

In Porter Ranch, a woman pepper sprayed customers at a Wal-Mart in what authorities say was a deliberate attempt to get more "door buster" merchandise. In San Leandro, a Wal-Mart shopper walking to his car was shot and wounded in a suspected robbery early Friday.

Another shooting was reported at a parking lot next to a Wal-Mart in South Carolina, also a suspected robbery attempt. Officials told WMBF-TV they believe the robbery was tied to Black Friday.

At Porter Ranch, 20 customers, including children, were hurt in the 10:10 p.m. incident, officials said. Shoppers complained of minor skin and eye irritation and sore throats.

"This was customer-versus-customer 'shopping rage,'" said Los Angeles Police Lt. Abel Parga.

The woman used the spray in more than one area of the Wal-Mart "to gain preferred access to a variety of locations in the store," said Los Angeles Fire Capt. James Carson.

"She was competitive shopping," he said.

Police are searching for the woman but said they've had trouble getting a clear description of her.

Black Friday sales began at the Wal-Mart at 10 p.m. and featured sales on toys, including $5 Bratz dolls, $10 Wii video games and $29 tricycles. 

Witness Matthew Lopez described a chaotic scene in the San Fernando Valley store among shoppers looking for video games soon after the sale began.

"I heard screaming and I heard yelling," said Lopez, 18. "Moments later, my throat stung. I was coughing really bad and watering up."

Lopez said customers were already in the store when a whistle signaled the start of the Black Friday sale at 10 p.m., sending shoppers hurtling in search of deeply discounted items.

Lopez said that by the time he arrived at the video games, the display had been torn down. Employees attempted to hold back the scrum of shoppers and pick up merchandise even as customers trampled the video games and DVDs strewn on the floor.

"It was absolutely crazy," he said.

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-- Andrew Blankstein and Hailey Branson-Potts

Photo: Shoppers mix with security officials outside the Wal-Mart in Porter Ranch. Credit: Andrew Blankstein / Los Angeles Times

 
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