Macarena Soto saw people running and screaming about a shooter inside Orlando’s Florida Mall on Dec. 29 — so she started running, too. “It was just mass hysteria and I saw many people running and screaming, and some crying,” said Soto, 20. It turned out there was no shooting, just a fight between a man and a woman over a fast food refund, the Orlando Sentinel reports. The clattering of chairs hitting the ground was mistaken for gunshots, causing a wave of panic. In the end, 18 people were injured, eight of whom were taken to area hospitals, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said. Most of the injuries were from people being trampled. “That’s an impressive number of people to be taken to the hospital over literally nothing,” said Steven Adelman of the Event Safety Alliance, a Phoenix-based trade association.
The increase of mass shootings nationwide has put many on heightened alert, but e they are rare occurrences. Panicking before the situation is clear can create danger where there is none. “[The shootings] all get appropriate media attention, but that has generated an over-sensitivity and fear that goes even beyond those horrific incidents,” Adelman said. It was the third incident at Florida Mall in two years in which a loud noise caused panic. In 2016, nine people were injured fleeing after hearing popping balloons; and in April, thieves set off fireworks at the mall as a distraction while they stole a Rolex. The initial call in the recent incident went out at 5:07 p.m. but the first outside communication that there was no shooting came about 40 minutes later when a sheriff’s spokeswoman sent an email to local media. The agency posted a similar message on Twitter at 6:06 p.m. The two people who were fighting face charges of disorderly conduct in a public place and battery.