Disturbances that included gunfire, massive brawls and food-court fights played out at more than a dozen malls across the country in what proved to be a chaotic day after Christmas.
The disturbances, some of which were captured on social media, prevented some shoppers from clearing off clearance racks and returning Christmas gifts as they intended on Boxing Day.
The News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, reports that the U.S. Government had issued a security alert about planned attacks on churches and had consequently beefed up security in the event of any eventualities during the festive period.
However, the mall incidents, which ranged from minor melees to mass evacuations, occurred nationwide from Colorado to Tennessee, Texas to New Jersey, according to CNN reports.
In Aurora, Colorado, it all started with a social media post that promised a fight at the Town Centre at Aurora.
Aurora Police Department spokesman, Chris Amsler, said about 100 people had gathered in the food court before the brawls broke out, prompting the Colorado mall to close early on Monday afternoon.
“(It) kind of morphed into this large disturbance,” Mr. Amsler said.
When off-duty police officers working as security guards tried to break up a fight, people circled the officers, who called for backup, Mr. Amsler said.
As police officers on duty arrived, fights broke out throughout the mall, at a movie theatre and at a nearby park-and-ride lot, he said.
He estimated that 500 people were involved.
Authorities arrested five people, all juveniles, and recovered no weapons, he said.
“One person assaulted at the park-and-ride lot suffered ‘significant’ injuries and was taken to a hospital”, Mr. Amsler said.
In Memphis, Tennessee, seven people were arrested after incidents at two malls.
Police said a group started a disturbance in the Wolfchase Galleria food court and started running, which prompted some customers to call 911.
Then a crowd gathered outside Oak Court Mall, about 10 miles west, and started a disturbance; both malls were cleared and closed early for the night.
Shots were reported in both incidents, but police said they found no evidence of gunfire and no injuries were reported.
In Fayetteville, North Carolina, people panicked after teenagers fought in the food court, Fayetteville police spokesman Shawn Strepay said but that no shots were fired, in spite of reports of gunfire.
“Once people start running in that area or chairs are getting knocked over, tables, that sort of thing, that echoes and it could resemble the sound of a gunshot to a lot of people,” he said.
In Elizabeth, New Jersey, the first calls from the The Mills at Jersey Gardens came in just after nightfall Monday, and witnesses said they thought they had heard shots fired.
That, along with a fight, led to what Elizabeth police Officer Greg Jones described as a “chaotic panic and everybody running all at once”.
Ultimately, though, patrons had mistaken the sound of a chair slammed during a fight for gunfire, city officials said.
Two people, an eight-year-old and 12-year-old, were injured, the station reported.
In Fort Worth, Texas, the security guards had no other choice but to place the Hulen Mall on lock-down.
At one point, police said at least 100 people were involved in a series of fights.
Fort Worth Police spokeswoman Tamara Velle said officers initially responded to reported gunfire inside the mall, adding that after breaking up the fights, officers stopped by each store to let people leave while the lock-down remained in effect.
“There were no reported injuries or property damage thanks in large part to local police.
“You keep hearing the horror stories of the mall shootings across the nations right now.
“Anytime we’re hearing about a mall shooting and it’s the day after Christmas, where you have tons of people holiday shopping … we’re going to get in there as fast as we can,” Mr. Velle said.
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