Backfires and falling sign spark panic in Times Square, Utah after shootings

"I was freaking out even more just because those two mass shootings that happened earlier in the week — that's just where your mind automatically goes to."

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By Phil Helsel

At least three incidents in the United States on Tuesday — a shooting scare at a Louisiana Walmart, backfiring engines in New York’s Times Square, and a falling sign at a Utah mall — sent people running for safety just days after two mass shootings left more than 30 people dead in Texas and Ohio.

In the scare at the Louisiana Walmart, the sheriff’s office said in a statement to NBC affiliate WVLA of Baton Rouge that no shooting is believed to have occurred, and that one person was injured while fleeing the scene in Tuesday’s incident.

In an earlier statement, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office said that there was an initial report that there were two men shooting, but it appeared there was an altercation between two men where a handgun may have been seen.

"When customers saw the handgun, panic set in, and customers were running and screaming while trying to exit the store," the sheriff’s office said. "Given the recent events in El Paso and Dayton, and given the initial information we received via 911 calls and witnesses exiting the store, we responded with what we feel is appropriate."

In Times Square Tuesday night, video captured people running for safety from the tourist attraction, but the NYPD’s Midtown North district tweeted that the sounds was from motorcycles.

“Motorcycles backfiring while passing through sounded like gun shots," the NYPD said, adding that it received multiple 911 calls. "... Please don’t panic. The Times Square area is very safe!"

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Bridget Siljander told NBC New York that she was coming out of a theater and “there was a big stampede, and people were screaming and crying and climbing over each other.” She was briefly separated from her daughter amid the chaos, she said.

"We were turning around to take a picture in Time Square, and we just see a herd of people screaming and yelling 'shooter,'" Jade Crowe, who was visiting the popular tourist spot with her family, told NBC News.

"I was freaking out even more just because those two mass shootings that happened earlier in the week — that's just where your mind automatically goes to," she added.

At least one pedestrian was injured from a fall while running during the scare, NBC New York, citing police, reported.

In West Valley City, Utah, which is next to Salt Lake City, police said on twitter that there was a false alarm at the Valley Fair Mall which was sparked by a sign falling.

"People heard a loud bang which was actually the sound of a sign falling. There is no danger. No one is hurt," the police department tweeted.

A police spokesperson told NBC affiliate KSL of Salt Lake City that there was a performance at the mall and the sound caused someone to yell "shots."

Police said some people took cover in stores. Police said they cleared the mall of all patrons out of a precaution but cautioned no shots were fired.

On Saturday, a gunman opened fire at a crowded Walmart in El Paso, Texas, shortly after 10:30 a.m., killing at least 22 people and wounding more than 20 others. The gunman was arrested. The prosecutor said they will seek the death penalty against him.

At around 1 a.m. Sunday, another gunman in Dayton, Ohio, opened fire in an entertainment district, killing 9 people and wounding others.

The gunman was fatally shot by police. He used a .223-caliber firearm with a drum magazine that holds 100 rounds, authorities said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat running for president, tweeted after the Times Square incident that: "Times Square is safe and secure, but the panic and fear people felt tonight was all too real. Nobody should have to live in constant fear of gun violence. NOBODY."

Kiernan Zehring contributed.