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Falling light fixture mistaken for gunfire sparks panic at Tysons, police say

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 8/7/2022 Daniel Wu, Vanessa Sánchez
Police stand outside a Macys department store at Tysons Corner mall in June. (Photo by Craig Hudson /For The Washington Post) © Craig Hudson/For The Washington Post Police stand outside a Macys department store at Tysons Corner mall in June. (Photo by Craig Hudson /For The Washington Post)

Stores closed and shoppers fled from Tysons Corner Center mall Sunday afternoon after police said the crash of a falling light fixture — while officers were investigating a possible theft — was mistaken for gunshots.

No evidence of gunfire or injuries was found, police said, but the incident was enough to spark panic at the sprawling shopping center, just over a month after shots were fired in the mall during a fight in June.

Police received a report of gunshots inside Tysons at 2:49 p.m. and began clearing the mall, Fairfax County police second lieutenant Jason Chandler said. As of about 3:40 p.m., the mall was clear and no threats were reported. The mall never went into a lockdown, Chandler said, but some stores closed.

Melanie Kantor of Fairfax County had been at an American Eagle store in Tysons with her family when the staff locked the doors and led everyone into a storeroom. She reported being told that people had been seen running in the hallways, so “we’re putting everyone back here.”

She estimated that about 50 people were in the backroom of the store in a state of uncertainty while getting a variety of text messages and phone calls purporting to tell what was happening.

It was “a little scary,” she said, because “nobody knew what was going on” and there was “a lot of bad information flying around.”

However, she said the “staff was really great,” and worked to keep everybody calm, although some of the employees seemed no older than teenagers.

“I think most people felt safe where we were,” she said.

Afterward, she said, she and her family left the mall immediately.

Before the report of gunshots, Chandler said police responded to a possible theft in the mall near the glass elevator. A light fixture fell “in the general area” of the police activity causing a loud sound, Chandler said, which officers believe led to the panic in the mall.

A video posted on Twitter showed police officers leading several individuals away from the mall in handcuffs after reports of the gunshots were made. Chandler said no suspects were detained in response to the reports, but was uncertain whether individuals were detained in the earlier response to a possible theft.

Other videos posted on social media show scores of customers fleeing from the mall. Tysons was advertising a tax-free weekend with discounted clothes and school supplies, according to the shopping center’s website.

In mid-June, gunshots were fired in Tysons after a fight, closing the mall and sparking a panic as customers fled or hid in stores. A boy was fatally shot at the Moechella concert in Northwest Washington that same weekend, and the week prior, three people were shot after a dispute at a shopping mall in Prince George’s County.

The incidents came amid a string of high-profile mass shootings across the country from Buffalo to Uvalde, Tex. In the wake of the killings, some D.C. and Virginia residents told The Washington Post they’d become more sensitive to the risk of gun violence, or hesitant to return to large gathering places.

Studies in 2019 and 2018 by the American Psychological Association and Pew Research Center conducted after high profile mass shootings found that, across the country, news of gun violence similarly exacerbated respondents’ fears and stress levels.

This developing story has been updated.

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