SWEETWATER, Fla. (WSVN) — Dolphin Mall has reopened its doors and appears to have returned to normal, after a fight that broke out on a busy Saturday night led to widespread panic and unfounded reports of shots fired.
Police arrested a man believed to have been at the center of the chaos.
7News cameras captured a heavy police presence outside of the mall, less than an hour after videos posted to social media platforms showed people running out in large numbers.
Multiple agencies responded to the incident as they would to reports of shots fired.
According to investigators, after the fight broke out, shoppers mistook the melee for gunfire, but no firearms were ever discharged.
Shopper Carlos Garcia said pandemonium ensued. “With the panic and all that — it was by the Ross – basically everybody was just running,” he said.
The incident caused a stir on social media. Videos posted to Twitter showed dozens of shoppers sprinting out of the shopping center.
A video posted to Twitter shows police cruisers outside the mall and a helicopter circling the area.
Another clip shows a Miami-Dade Fire Rescue vehicle parked near The Cheesecake Factory.
Shoppers told 7News they were on lockdown, hiding in stores for about an hour and fearing the worst.
“It was like a sight out of a movie, basically. It was unbelievable,” said Garcia. “It was really something that was a little frightening.”
Police took David Smith into custody and questioned another person.
Smith was charged with aggravated battery and resisting arrest.
Video posted on social media appears to show Smith being detained by police.
In a tweet, Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz said he came to the mall “to make sure everything was OK.”
“It just brings the worst possible thing to your mind,” he said, “and all you want to make sure is whatever you could do to help.”
Several witnesses said they saw officers showed up to the scene with their guns drawn. Other witnesses said they were certain they’d heard a gun go off, but one never did.
“People tend to hear things, people tend to see things,” said Diaz. “The reality is, that’s what an officer has to deal with when they show up to a scene, and it’s not easy being a police officer running into a crowd as opposed to just running out.”
Police indicated they never received 911 calls of shots fired but did receive calls from concerned family members who had heard shots were fired and had loved ones at the mall.
But Sweetwater Police said the altercation that led to the lockdown and the heavy police presence was minor.
The panic, however, follows a pattern from past events. In August of 2017, police responded to reports of an active shooter at Dolphin Mall, but found nothing.
A bomb scare followed few months later, when the FBI foiled a plot by 53-year-old Vicente Solano to kill off as many people as he could by setting off explosives in the mall’s food court.
Diaz said he’s relieved Saturday’s minor skirmish did not escalate into gun violence. “The most important thing is information, and that people understand that that wasn’t the case, and everybody’s pretty much safe,” he said, “and hopefully, things don’t happen, but we know we have to be prepared for them.”
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said three people suffered stress-related injuries. Two of them were treated at the scene and the third was transported to an area hospital with minor injuries.
The mall reopened just before 11 p.m.
The circumstances behind the fight remain unclear at this point, as is the reason why several people thought they heard gunfire.
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