A shoplifter resisting arrest and knocking over a display case inside Roosevelt Field Mall on Tuesday sparked a shooting scare during one of the busiest shopping days of the year, Nassau County police said.
Authorities confirm that at about 1:15 p.m. Christmas Eve, a shoplifter scuffling with security guards knocked over a perfume display case inside Macy’s, which caused a loud noise that scared last-minute Christmas shoppers into believing a gunman was opening fire.
“Some people people mistakenly believed that sound was shots fired,” says Nassau Police Inspector Kenneth Lack, the department’s chief spokesman. “The report of shots fired was unfounded.”
Nassau County Police Acting Commissioner Victor Politi, who was on scene at the mall, says there were minor injuries among several shoppers and that the suspect is in custody. He added that investigators checked security tapes to confirm that there was no gunman.
Marie Seale, a 27-year-old Macy’s employee, tells the Press she was working on the third floor when a customer told her there was a shooting. She and other employees quickly gathered customers and moved them to a third-floor bathroom and stock room, where they stayed for about 20 minutes before an announcement over the mall’s loudspeaker system reported that the mall was safe. Seale says there were more than 20 people huddled into the bathroom for safety.
“At first, we didn’t know what was going on and people were in panic mode,” she says. “For me, it was very nerve-wracking because my husband was killed last year [in a shooting in Baltimore].”
Seale “was still shaking” about an hour after the incident as she smoked a cigarette outside, adding that employees’ reactions were “just natural.”
Other employees described a chaotic scene, with customers pushing and shoving as they ran toward the exits. One noted multiple empty baby strollers inside Macy’s as terrified parents snatched their children into their arms and carried them away.
“Some guy came downstairs saying there was a shooting,” said Rob, who was doing his last-minute Christmas shopping in the basement at Macy’s. “Nobody believed him, everyone kept shopping.”
But, when more people began screaming and a store employee also told him that shots had been fired, Rob left with his girlfriend, Jeanine.
Social media sites such as Twitter exploded Tuesday afternoon with reports that shots had been fired in the mall amid the Christmas Eve crunch of shoppers. Social media similarly exploded with people mistakenly believing there was a gunman at the same mall four months ago when a gunman shot two people at a store nearby.
There was a large police presence in the wake of the latest incident, with Nassau County Emergency Services and Bureau of Special Operations units on the scene.
Police responded within less than a minute, said authorities, blocking off roads and snarling traffic around the mall as helicopters buzzed overhead. The mall was locked down for about 20 minutes.
Lack, the police spokesman, said: “The mall is safe.”