SAN DIEGO – A store employee at the Westfield UTC mall was stabbed in the back multiple times Friday as he tried to stop someone from stealing an item, San Diego police said.

The stabbing happened around 6 p.m. at a GNC vitamin and supplements shop in the mall on La Jolla Village Drive, east of Interstate 5 in University City. According to police, the employee and a customer got in an argument over a return before the other man grabbed an undisclosed item and tried to leave.

The employee, who was not publicly identified, tried to stop the man outside the store. The thief then dropped the item and stabbed him in the back, according to police. He picked up the item and ran off.

Police say the victim was hospitalized with stab wounds. His condition was listed as “pending,” and a watch commander had no update on his status Saturday morning.

The suspect was described by police as a light-skinned Hispanic or white man in his early-to-mid 20s with a shaved head. He was wearing a gray sweatshirt and blue jeans at the time of the incident.

San Diego police robbery detectives were investigating the case.

Anyone with information can contact the Crime Stoppers anonymous tip line at 888-580-8477.