SWEETWATER, Fla. (WSVN) — Terrified shoppers fled from Dolphin Mall following reports of shots fired, Saturday night. Twenty-four hours later, what triggered pandemonium at the popular shopping center remains a mystery.
The mall was back open Sunday, as families did some last-minute shopping before the start of the school year in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, Monday.
But just before closing time the night before, confusion and chaos spread across the building. “I don’t know what happened,” said shopper Rodolfo Gutierrez.
Bewildered shoppers told 7News store employees suddenly began closing their doors and asked customers to exit the premises as quickly as possible.
Witness Brian Diaz described how people stumbled on each other as they struggled to make their exit. “I looked to the side, to the entrance, and people were falling and sliding,” he said.
A Sweetwater Police officer called for assistance after seeing a crowd running for the mall exits screaming about shots fired.
Multiple law enforcement agencies flooded the area, evacuated shoppers and set up a perimeter.
In video posted to social media, armed police officers directed people out of the mall. The shoppers’ panic is palpable in the footage.
“We just followed the crowd. We heard someone say that there were shots,” said Lysander Temprano.
A SWAT unit then went inside to handle the possible threat.
“They got AR-15s out. It is not a joke,” one person is heard saying on cellphone video recorded from inside a clothing store.
Some shoppers said they heard a boom, but one man, who asked not to be identified, said he’s certain about what he heard. “All of a sudden I heard gunshots, and they started getting louder and louder,” he said.
But no scene was ever found. “We don’t have any casings. We don’t have any victims injured,” said Miami-Dade Police Detective Argemis Colome.
It was a relief for police officers who said they are prepared for situations like these. In mock drills, multiple agencies participate in an exercise designed to expose officers to the threat of a shooter in a crowded mall.
“Our departments do train for these types of incidents, so we want to let the public know and the community know that you are safe in this community,” said Colome. “We are going to respond to these things as quickly as possible.”
While plenty of shoppers were shaken, Saturday night, those who came to Dolphin Mall on Sunday said the scare wouldn’t keep them away. “It is secure here,” said one shopper.
But Francine Abreu said the incident still raises safety concerns. “We are worried because it’s a problem, and you are in danger in any time, in any moment,” she said, “but anyway, I think that we have to put our eyes on God and live with freedom.”
Miami-Dade Police continue to investigate what sparked the initial scare. Detectives are reviewing security camera footage.
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