Masked man sparks hysteria at Memorial City Mall


The quiet of a summer Sunday afternoon was broken at Memorial City Mall when a masked man jumped on a food court table and proclaimed he would kill himself before he threw down an unknown object, leading hundreds of panicked shoppers and store employees to rush for the exits.

Only two people — a mother and her 16-year-old son — suffered minor ankle and leg injuries in the crowds, police said. The suspect remains at large and could face a charge of terroristic threats, police said. He was only described as a white man in his teens or early 20s. 

The mall was expected to remain closed for at least the rest of Sunday for the ongoing police investigation, though some big box stores at the corners of the mall were expected to re-open Sunday night, police said.

“We don’t take this type of thing lightly,” said Houston Police Assistant Chief Sheryl Victorian.

The masked man first appeared around 3:12 p.m on video surveillance cameras in the mall, police said.

The man seemed appeared to be moving up the escalators toward the Cinemark movie theater in the mall. About five minutes later, the man appeared to have donned a mask as he moved down the escalator toward the food court, police said. Shoppers said the mask only covered half the man’s face with holes cut for his eyes.

The culprit trotted through the food court, lept on a table and announced he was going to kill himself, authorities said. At the same time, the man pulled the object, which was covered in toilet paper, out of a backpack and threw it on the ground, police said.

Police initially said the man used fireworks, and some shoppers reported seeing smoke. However, police later ruled out fireworks.

Amid the chaos, the masked man was able to escape the mall through a south-side entrance and run toward apartments along Barryknoll Lane.

Shoppers across the nation have been on edge since a shooter killed 22 at a Walmart in El Paso last Saturday, and just hours later, another shooter killed nine in Ohio.

In Times Square, the loud pop of a dirt bike backfiring Tuesday night sent hundreds of people running, leaving many injured.

In Houston’s Uptown Park, diners ran into the kitchen of Flower Child Tuesday evening and called 9-1-1 after hearing what one customer described as the sound of gunshots. When police arrived on the scene, they saw no sign of a shooter. A Houston public information officer referenced heightened safety concerns when describing the incident.

And shopping centers beefed up their security this weekend, according to the Houston Police Department and a private security company. Charles Levier, a security guard assigned to Walmart for Brosnan Security, said his company increased personnel resources this weekend due to both the crowds and the heightened threat of violence following the recent shootings in El Paso and Dayton. Some Houston-area shoppers taking advantage of the back-to-school, tax-free weekend on Saturday said they had left their children at home because of the potential for a shooting.

At Memorial City Mall, the false alarm resulted in real panic. One shopper suffered a knee injury and could not walk, according to the Houston police command center.

A similar scare unfolded at Memorial City Mall in December 2017 when word of a possible active shooter spread after a failed attempt at a smash-and-grab.

A would-be robber used a hammer to shatter a jewelry case at Ben Bridge Jeweler, sending shoppers scattering.

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