Good Friday turned into a nightmare for many when a scary scene of chaos and disruption played out in New York’s Penn Station last evening. Thousands of frightened travelers created a stampede for the exits based on false reports of gunfire. In total, 16 individuals were injured due to the shocking incident that saw travelers falling over each other to run away from what they perceived to be gunshots.
In reality, the “shots” that caused the horrifying scene at Penn Station turned out to be the sound of a Taser going off. As representatives from the NYPD later reported, the stampede began with an agitated man that was located in the Amtrak waiting area.
The Amtrak police used a Taser to subdue the man and it was in this moment that the popping sound led people unfamiliar with the noise to believe that it was gunfire. The ensuing stampede caused immediate panic with scores of frightening screams echoing out. What followed was a crazed rush of travelers running for the exits and hiding on the ground behind anything they could, including luggage, trash cans, and kiosks.
One confused passenger interviewed by NBC 4 in New York described the disturbing stampede as “a herd of buffalo” who ran in a panic even though there was nowhere to go due to the overwhelming number of people.
The commuters that did manage to escape Penn Station took refuge at the nearby Macy’s Herald Square flagship store on West 34th Street, which went into lockdown to avoid what they believed was an active shooter on a deadly rampage.
Videos of the terrifying event quickly spread online detailing both the stampede and the aftermath that showed abandoned belongings thrown everywhere in sight and a cacophony of people on cell phones calling loved ones and crying out in shock.
As CNN reported, NYPD Chief William Morris confirmed that at no time were actual shots fired and that all injuries sustained in the stampede were not life-threatening. Additionally, both the NYPD and FDNY worked to quickly dispel the false alarms which caused dozens of terrified people to call 911 and report that there was a shooting at Penn Station.
The stampede at Penn Station capped off a night of overcrowding at the travel hub which serves over 600,000 train passengers every day. The problems began when a New Jersey Transit train carrying 1,200 passengers became trapped in the Hudson River tunnel due to Amtrak power issues.
The Hudson River tunnel is a major travel artery for New Jersey and New York commuters, so having it inaccessible for several hours caused backlogs at Penn Station at a time when people were heading home to begin their weekends. Having agitated passengers waiting on indefinitely delayed trains at the peak of rush hour and the stampede proved to be a recipe for a decidedly stress-filled evening.
These latest incidents come after months of troubling events for Penn Station. In addition to Friday’s stampede and the overcrowding issues, there was a major derailment involving New Jersey Transit in early April. That event caused eight tracks to be out of commission and led to an ongoing service disruption that lasted for days. Another derailment weeks prior highlighted an over-capacity and aging transit system and station where travel issues were becoming the norm.
The mounting incidents at Penn Station, which is the largest transit hub in the nation, are a big reason why many travelers avoid the station entirely. Indeed, as recent Yelp reviews illustrate, Penn Station is known by many for its foul odors, panhandlers, and expensive food court instead of efficient traveling.
One Yelp user named Eric A. described a disturbing incident at Penn Station involving a homeless person who harassed them.
“For whatever reason this station attracts the worst of humanity, I’m talking the unsavory and belligerent types of homeless people that leer at you as you try to avoid them. I was walking to my train just earlier today and this really creepy homeless guy practically ran up in front of me and demanded that I give him money. I politely said no and quickly moved away from him. As I walked away I could feel footsteps coming up behind me and when I glanced back, it was that very same man. He was following me. I then walked extremely quickly and moved towards a larger crowd of people. I stayed with those people and I then turned around to let him know I knew he was following me. He then moved away from me thankfully and moved on to harass other members of the public.”
This latest stampede incident at Penn Station shows that even the Amtrak waiting area, which has a waiting area that requires proof of ticket to enter, is not immune to security incidents that can spark fear and panic for commuters.
[Featured Image by Mary Altaffer/AP Images]