GARDEN CITY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A suspected shoplifter knocked over a display case at the Roosevelt Field Mall on Long Island Tuesday, but the scene was sheer panic as shoppers ran for their lives upon thinking they had heard gunshots.
As CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, all was back to calm as night fell on Christmas Eve and the deadline approached for holiday shopping. But around 1:20 p.m. Tuesday, it all came to a halt.
“People were just coming out, running so we thought somebody had a gun or somebody was fighting but nobody told us. Everybody was panicking,” Cherry, who was shopping in Macy’s with her husband at the time of the incident, told 1010 WINS. “Everybody looked scared so we knew something was really wrong.”
“All of a sudden hundreds of people headed for the door. I thought it was somebody shooting or something,” Joe told 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten.
Three people were injured following the ensuing panic.
“We were walking out of PacSun and there’s like a stampede of people coming at us, and we didn’t know what to do,” one shopper said.
“Oh my God,” another said. “It was the scariest thing you ever want to come across. You hear this on the news all the time, and to happen on Christmas Eve Day.”
“It sounded like a gun — I’m not sure, but it’s really scary – like a real gun,” a third said.
But police said the “bang, bang, bang” that shoppers heard was really just a display case crashing down when Macy’s security was wrestling with a shoplifter.
Police said the shoplifter was taken into custody, and no gun was found. They said the noise was not gunfire.
“Some people thought it was shots fired. It was things on the display case that hit the ground. They mistakenly thought that was shots fired,” said Nassau County police Inspector Kenneth Lack.
But the sound of the crash reverberated through the mall, sending shoppers screaming and streaming out of stores and exits. Others took cover in storage rooms and under counters.
“I hear the broken glass falling down, that’s it, and people running,” a woman said. “So I said, ‘What’s going on? What happened? What’s going on?’ Then I went to the floor.”
“You see people running and screaming,” another said. “I heard one or two gunshots, and everybody here running, so we all ducked on the floor.”
One group of shoppers was feet away from the scuffle with the alleged shoplifter that set off the scare.
“I didn’t hear no gunshots. “I was right next to it,” a shopper in the group said. “But everyone just saw something like that, and they ran down this hallway.”
But even to off-duty police officers and seasoned law enforcement in the mall, the noise sounded like gunfire.
Until the incident, it had been an upbeat day at Roosevelt Field Mall. Last-minute shoppers and families had crowded in for discounts and the Christmas spirit.
Nassau County police also mixed into the crowd for safety. Some shoppers said they were impressed at how quickly police restored calm.
“The most amazing thing was the response time for security,” said shopper Brain Tamke. “Within seconds, security, police, fire, and emergency services had evacuated the floors and sent people to the back of stores. It was very concerting to know that there was plans like that in place.”
One shopper said that some people took advantage of the chaotic situation, holding on to items they hadn’t paid for as they fled the mall, Baumgarten reported.
The three people who were hurt appeared to have been injured as shoppers tried to flee the scene, Nassau County Police Inspector Kenneth Lack said.
The mall was closed for about 15 minutes as a precaution.
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