Almost three months after the disastrous Pulse Nightclub shooting, nine patrons at an Orange County, Florida, mall were injured after trampling one another when popping balloons were mistaken for gunshots. This unfortunate occurrence reveals tensions and anxiety still run high in the Orlando area following the largest mass shooting on American soil.
Orange County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Deputy Rose Silva formally confirmed to media there was no gunman at the Florida Mall. As stated, the purported gunshot noises were actually from large popping balloons unveiled in conjunction with the grand opening of former 'NSync singer Joey Fatone's new hot dog stand.
Officials state a warning issued over the PA system informed mall-goers that balloons would be popped. However, the loud noises still created a panic. Orange County Fire and Rescue officials state nine people received treatment at the scene, while four shoppers with minor injuries were hospitalized.
"The test consisted of six large balloons popping consecutively, followed by a fire alarm. This caused people to go into panic mode and run."
When the 21-year-old saw patrons frantically running, the first thing that came to mind was another shooting had transpired.
Sparked by this concern, Levane sprinted to the farthest corner of the parking lot; a method taught to him last week when the store held active shooter training. While running, he called his mother and told her he loved her.
"I left her a voicemail that there was someone shooting in the mall and that I was OK," Levane said.
He said he returned home early that day due to the severity of the incident.
Thursday's incident marked the second Orlando-area false alarm shooting scare since the June 12 Pulse Nightclub catastrophe sent shockwaves throughout the community. A similar situation unfolded at Orlando Premium Outlets on June 18 when a chair fell. Patrons at that store mistook the sounds for gunshots and panicked.
Concerning the chaos, customer Breauna Mabry said, "We were just inside of the mall, and we see a whole group of people running and getting trampled on. We really don't know what happened."
"All I heard was the word 'gun' and knew I had to get out of there," she said. "My husband grabbed our baby out of the stroller and we just ran."
"They just kept telling us to hurry and get out quickly," Tapia said of mall employees who helped them outside. "It was really scary."
She said after the tragedy at Pulse nightclub, and the deadly shooting at the same mall earlier this year, people inside are "big targets" and anxiety over another probable mass shooting is high.
In February, two people died following a shooting at the Florida Mall in the JC Penney parking lot.
In the wake of the spate of national mass shootings, psychologist Deborah Day said the reaction to Thursday's scare was perfectly okay.
"This is something we didn't see 15 years ago, and we're going to see more and more of it. It is normal for us to act that way, because we are still on edge. It's a fear reaction. It's no different if there's a fire, but we don't. We run out. And we don't really look around to see what's going on. We take care of ourselves."
Amid these events, the Florida Mall remains open.
[Photo by Stuart Ramson/Invision for JCPenney/AP Images]