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SOUTH ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO (KTVI)– The Walmart on Telegraph Road at I-255 was evacuated for close to three hours Thursday night after a shoplifter was caught with a portable meth lab that was actually cooking the volatile drug in her purse.   Quick thinking cops may have prevented a bad situation from being much worse.

Police say it was about 6:30pm when they received the call about the couple shoplifting.  Beat cops arrived to make the arrests with little thought of drugs. 

Police say A 32-year-old woman had stolen a purse and was filling it with cosmetics. But when they encountered the man and woman that had been detained, one of them noticed the soda bottle in the woman’s purse.  He knew from training that it was a portable meth lab, known as a “shake and bake” device.  It was actually cooking meth in the woman’s purse.  

Police quickly brought in the fire department and the St. Louis County Drug Task Force to deal with the chemicals, which officers tell us often explode or catch fire in those small bottles.  

Meanwhile the store was evacuated.  Hundreds of people were milling about in the parking lot, and more cars were being turned away by Walmart employees as they tried to come in.  

Shopper Kelly Wells was among those evacuated from the store.  

“People are insane,” she said.  “It’s a bad decision in the first place, but why put everybody in danger?  All these kids and in the public.  It’s just crazy.”

Kim Howard was also inside when shoppers were hurried out.

“There was a lady next to us who said I come here to get my medication.  That’s scary because now she’s afraid to get it.  She doesn’t know if it’s contaminated or not. “

Police say no such worries are necessary.  Nothing was contaminated, and the meth ingredients, both inside the store and in the couple’s car outside, were safely secured.  

No one was injured, and the store reopened about 9:30 Thursday night.  

“It’s pretty exciting over here for Walmart,” one passing customer said with a chuckle.    

The woman was later released but the investigation is continuing.