WEST VALLEY CITY — A falling sign that made a gunshot-like sound caused mass panic at the Valley Fair Mall on Tuesday night.
A sign fell over during a concert at the mall around 7:30 p.m., according to West Valley police spokeswoman Roxeanne Vainuku. The falling sign made a loud banging noise, Vainuku said, and someone in the crowd yelled, “Shots!”
From there, pandemonium broke out.
Angel Campuzano, 15, was at the mall with his 14-year-old sister Adriana. The two of them heard the sound and, like others, assumed the worst.
“It sounded like a gunshot, like ‘bang,'” Angel Campuzano said. “Everybody was running.”
The siblings also began to run, trying to get as far from the sound as possible.
When employees at the Ross store first saw people running by, they joked amongst themselves that people were excited to get to the concert. They hadn’t heard the sound from inside the store.
“Then a kid ran into the store and yelled, ‘There’s a shooter,'” employee Dulce Rabadan recalled.
Police responded to the mall at about 7:37 p.m. after reports of a potential active shooter. They arrived to find people running toward the exits, and others hiding inside stores, Vainuku said. A handful were arrested when fights broke out amidst the chaos.
“Naturally there is an element of panic because I think everyone’s a little heightened these days,” especially in light of mass shootings this past week in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, Vainuku said.
The back-to-back shootings left 31 people dead.
Within about 20 minutes, officers had evacuated the mall and figured out the source of the noise. At that point, mall management made the decision to close for the evening, though the Megaplex movie theater had reopened as of about 9 p.m.
Meanwhile, on social media, some at the mall posted live updates about their experiences, warning others to stay away. One Twitter user wrote that she was locked in the back of a Foot Locker store because of a shooting alarm. Several others said they’d been at the movie theater when it was evacuated.
It was an all-hands-on-deck situation for the West Valley City Police Department. Luckily, Vainuku said, there were more officers on duty Tuesday night than usual, thanks to National Night Out block parties throughout the city. All of the officers at those events reported to the mall, and other police departments, including Unified police, were called to assist.
“For as chaotic as it was with the crowd and whatnot, our officers train all the time for these types of situations,” Vainuku said. “On the police side, it was very smooth, like a well-oiled machine. It really went as smooth as we could hope it would go.”
Source:: Deseret News – Top stories