BOCA RATON, FLA. (WSVN) - A loud noise at the Town Center at Boca Raton’s food court ignited a shooting scare that led police to place the packed mall on lockdown, leaving shoppers stuck inside stores for hours and sending a man to the hospital with a serious head injury.
Investigators said there are no signs a gun went off.
Boca Raton Police officers responded to multiple reports of shots fired at the mall located along the 6000 block of Glades Road, just after 3 p.m., Sunday.
What followed was a massive response by authorities: tactical units, SWAT trucks and officers armed with high-powered assault rifles.
7News cameras captured police focusing their efforts in the southeast part of the mall. SWAT units from Boca Raton and Delray Beach police, as well as the Broward Sheriff’s Office, were seen swarming that area.
Federal agencies like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also responded to the scene.
Just after 4:30 p.m., a 7News crew witnessed a SWAT official using a loudspeaker to tell someone, “Come out with your hands up.” However, no subject was taken into custody.
Boca Raton Police Chief Dan Alexander addressed the incident during a news conference.
“We have not identified any suspect. We have not identified any gunshots or gunfire of any sort,” he said.
When asked what went through his mind during the scare, a shopper said, “Fear, fear for myself, for my friends, for people in the mall.”
Video posted to social media platforms captured shoppers running for cover inside and outside of the shopping center. A shaky video posted to Twitter was recorded by a man frantically trying to exit the mall.
“All of a sudden, we saw a mob of people running from the mall,” said mall employee Ryan Perreault as he stood outside the entrance to Nordstrom.
Cellphone video taken by Rachel Cohn outside of the mall shows several armed officers walking inside while shoppers headed in the opposite direction.
“People just sprinting for their lives,” said a witness.
Viewer video from inside the Apple Store shows customers hiding under tables and ducking for cover as others were seen running.
Police said some sort of loud noise inside the food court caused the stir.
“Some noise went off, some type of bang,” said Alexander. “We’ve received some video at this point that indicates a number of people turning around at one point in the food court, so something happened in the food court.”
Several shoppers said they heard gunshots, but it appears there were none.
“We have not recovered any shell casings, no rounds of ammunition, anything along those lines,” said Alexander, “so we’re going to continue to look at every possible option.”
Shoppers Shari Murria and Kimberly Murphy said they were having a late lunch when this all unfolded.
“Very, very scary. I was calling my children and my husband,” said Murria. “You never know.”
“You fear for your life. You never think about it, but when something like this is happening, then you don’t know what to do,” said store owner Gil Melloul.
The two friends huddled in the bathroom of a mall restaurant for nearly two hours, initially with no clue about what was taking place outside.
“I tried to stay calm, and then little by little, we were trying to figure out what happened,” said Murphy. “Eventually, they told us we needed to stay in the restaurant.”
Thirteen-year-old Luna Silva and her older sister, Stephanie Silva, said they were leaving Forever 21 when they heard what they believed to be a single gunshot.
“When I heard that boom, I just looked back, and all I saw was adults, kids crying and screaming, ‘Get out, get out! Shooter!'” said Stephanie.
“I start panicking, I start running, and I start crying. I see everybody crying,” said Luna.
The teens said their parents were in the back of the Apple Store waiting to be escorted out of the building by police.
“The mall got empty in a matter of 20 seconds,” said Melloul.
Meanwhile, an officer located the injured victim in a parking lot. Officials said the victim hit his head against a door while attempting to run out of the mall.
Paramedics transported him to Delray Medical Center as a trauma alert. His injuries are not considered to be life-threatening.
No other injuries have been reported, but police said some people may have suffered minor injuries trying to flee the mall. Paramedics remained outside the mall to tend to those shoppers.
It took hours for law enforcement to slowly and systematically clear the mall, store by store, room by room, as people sheltered in place waiting for the all clear.
After being locked down for nearly three hours, a woman named Lauren Weber tweeted to Boca Raton Police, “We have been stuck inside a store since 3:15 today. What is the time frame to let us out!?!”
Boca Raton Police replied to her, “Hi, Lauren. We don’t have a time frame because evacuation procedures are methodical to ensure everyone’s safety. Thank you for your patience and cooperation.”
Just after 9:30 p.m., police said the mall would remain open until 11 p.m. for anyone who wanted to collect their belongings or return to their vehicles.
“We’re not discerning at this time what specifically made the noise,” said Alexander. “We’re going to characterize it as a suspicious incident at this point and continue to investigate.”
Investigators spent Sunday night combing through surveillance video and speaking with people who were at the mall at the time of the incident in an effort to pinpoint the source of the noise.
“We need to get to the bottom of that, if we can, and determine what happened,” said Alexander.
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