The NYPD’s “see something, say something” directive went awry Sunday night when the cheering and clapping of people watching the Olympics at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport was falsely reported as gunfire and fighting, touching off panic and an aggressive multi-agency “counter-terror” response.
“A senior law enforcement official told NBC News that the concern started when a woman coming off a plane said she thought she’d heard gunfire,” journalists Alex Johnson and Jonathan Dienst reported. “Two other law enforcement officials also said at least one person reported having heard gunfire.”
In response to the unfounded reports, police evacuated Terminal 8 at roughly 9:30 PM and soon after it closed down Terminal 1. A highway to the airport was also closed off.
A cell phone video of the police response captures the NYPD’s aggressive response:
Passengers described scenes of panic and chaos. Demetrius Pipkin was in Terminal 1 awaiting a Norwegian Airlines flight when he heard rumors that shots had been fired. “We were previously told to get on the floor and take cover behind any and everything we could find,” said Pipkin, who told WPIX-TV that the area was a “madhouse.”
Images posted to social media show large crowds being evacuated.
— Amichai Stein (@AmichaiStein1) August 15, 2016
In a bizarre twist, former Navy SEAL and CEO of Force12 Media Brandon Webb apparently took it upon himself to lead people to safety, then boasted of his special force-style tactics, as though he had actually protected civilians from a terror attack. “I told a group I was with that we could climb the fence and get out of the area,” he wrote. “I pulled my black North Face rain jacket out of my pack and threw it over the razor wire and encouraged a lady to go up first. She insisted I climb so she could watch how I did it.”
But then on Sunday night, NYPD special ops reported that all terminals had been “searched and cleared. Negative results.”
Joe Pentangelo, a spokesperson for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department, declared, “At this time, no firearm, rounds or shell casings or other evidence of shots fired has been found.”
As recently as May, the NYPD teamed up with the Department of Homeland Security to run an active shooter drill confronting a fake drone attack against a high school in Brooklyn. The NYPD is also the biggest recipient of Urban Areas Security Initiative federal funds, which bankroll the militarization of police forces nationwide under the guise of countering terrorism.