BOCA RATON (CBSMiami) – Surveillance cameras inside the Town Center at Boca Raton rolled Sunday afternoon just before 3 p.m. when two unrelated events just minutes apart apparently set off a panic inside the mall and left people hiding from a suspected active shooter.
It began near the food court where a janitor’s cart dragged a balloon. As the janitor turned the corner, he later told police that he popped the balloon.
Then about 1-2 minutes later a surveillance camera inside a store nearby captured images of someone popping a balloon between their legs. Boca Raton Police say about a minute after that, chaos broke out. People ran for their lives and dozens of 911 calls flooded in to Boca Raton Police.
“There’s an active shooter at the Boca Mall,” said one caller.
“There is a shooter,” said another.
“We’re at the Town Center Mall, Boca. There’s gunshots,” said a third.
911 call takers quickly tried to determine where the suspected shooter was.
“Did you see a shooter in the Apple store?” a 911 dispatcher asked.
“No,” a caller answered. “We just heard gunshots go off.”
On another call:
“Nobody saw a shooter?” the 911 dispatcher asked.
“We did not,” the caller replied.
“Ok, very good,” the dispatcher said. “We’re on the way. We’re on the way. Thank you.”
On the 911 calls released by Boca Raton Police on Thursday, no one could say they actually saw a shooter. It was clear that the rumor mill was spinning out of control. Of course, we now know there was no shooter.
Mark Economou is the Public Information Manager for the Boca Raton Police department.
“It’s just one of those things that happen in today’s day and age that people are on edge,” Economou said.
He said in this real-time chaotic scene on Sunday an officer arrived and quickly found a man in a parking lot bleeding from the head and the man had trouble communicating.
“We quickly determined it wasn’t an active shooter but we still were looking at a call of shots fired,” Economou said. “The reason that happened was we found that gentleman in the parking lot bleeding.”
Economou said first responders thought the man was shot and police even tweeted that there was a gunshot victim. It wasn’t until police looked through surveillance video that they determined the man hit his head on a door trying to evacuate. As the days have worn on and police have gotten to what they believe is the cause of the panic, investigators say there’s an important takeaway should something like this happen again.
“I think people have to be calm, is number one,” Economou said. “Absolutely, you see something, call it in. You think something’s not right, something’s suspicious, call us. But the number one thing is to stay calm.”
Boca Raton police say similar scares have happened in recent years involving balloons popping. In Orlando a couple of years ago numerous people were injured in a stampede to flee a mall after several large balloons popped during a test of fire systems at a mall.