HOWELL TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – A New Jersey movie theater was evacuated when a man set off fireworks outside as part of a marriage proposal, sparking mass panic among customers in the dark inside.

The fireworks caused people to panic at Xscape movie theater off Route 9 in Howell Township on Wednesday night. Some even called 911 to report gunshots.

“I was trembling,” said movie-goer Florence Pittius. “One police car after the other, they had dogs, cops with rifles running into the theater.”

Police took 23-year-old Nathan Sanders into custody for questioning.

Police said he set off large illegal fireworks outside Climb Zone, adjacent to the theater, as part of a friend’s marriage proposal.

“Pop-pop-pop, people started screaming ‘get down, run,'” said Pittius. “The whole theatre started running all over the place.”

“There was no intent to cause panic to theatre patrons,” police said in a Facebook post. “Obviously this was a very poor decision rather than an overt act.”

“Definitely not a smart decision to make, especially near a movie theatre,” said Howell Township Police Chief Andrew Kudrick. “We captured him pretty quickly due to eyewitnesses. he was very apologetic.”

Sanders’ father spoke to CBS2 on Thursday, calling the incident a misunderstanding.

“We are very thankful for the diligence and dedication of the Howell police,” he said.

Sanders was charged with disorderly conduct and released.


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