Brawls, false gun reports shutter crowded malls across US Monday

Police around the country responded to reports of similar, violent incidents at malls around the country Monday, prompting some to wonder if social media played a role in the spike. 

Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal/AP
Police officers continue to patrol the area as people linger in the parking lots around Oak Court Mall after the mall was closed due to a disturbance Monday, Dec. 26, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. The incident was one of several across the country Monday.

Several disturbances broke out in malls around the country Monday, leading authorities to shutter some of the shopping centers after patrons stampeded toward the exits on one of the year’s busiest shopping days.

While many crowded into malls the week before Christmas to buy gifts for friends and family members, thousands found themselves back at the stores a day later, spending gift cards or returning merchandise. According to the National Retail Federation, half of consumers said they planned to take advantage of after-Christmas sales, and with Monday’s status as a federal holiday shuttering many companies and government offices, the number of shoppers flooding their local malls was expected to increase.

But in Elizabeth, N.J.; Fayetteville, N.C.; East Garden City, N.Y.; Aurora, Colo.; Tempe, Ariz.; Aurora, Ill., just outside of Chicago; Beachwood Place, a suburb of Cleveland; Memphis, and Fort Worth, Tx., crowded malls saw chaotic incidents from brawls to false reports of shootings.

Running, screaming. I seen a girl get trampled over. It was scary, it was really scary for real,” a witness at Beachwood Place Mall, where police used pepper spray to disperse a large fight, told CBS.

In Elizabeth, a fight in the food court broke out Monday morning, leading some to believe shots had been fired after a chair was thrown and struck the ground. Police arrived with machine guns and evacuated the mall, where 10 people were injured.

"The stores closed," Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage told News 12 New Jersey. "They locked their personnel inside...and whatever customers were in there." She also noted that rampant social media use during the incident fueled further panic and "was a real detriment to a safe evacuation."

Memphis police responded to brawls at two different malls, arresting eight in incidents where the presence of guns was falsely reported. Authorities in Fayetteville, East Garden, and Tempe also responded to malls to find false reports of shots fired. In Aurora, police said a few hundred people gathered for a fight that was apparently planned and announced on social media. Other fights in Fort Worth and Aurora, Ill., were broken up by police.

“Anytime that we’re hearing a mall shooting, and it’s the day after Christmas, you have tons of people holiday shopping, of course the response is going to be just like that. We’re going to get in here as fast we can,” Fort Worth police spokeswoman Tamara Valle told CBS.

Police are still unsure why nearly a dozen altercations occurred around the nation. Despite similarities in the slew of reported incidents, authorities aren’t aware of any connection between the fights, aside from a high volume of sharing videos and photos on social media.

While the spike in incidents seemed troubling, the disturbances only affected a few of the millions of shoppers nationwide, the vast majority of whom carried out peaceful shopping activities.

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