Shoppers at Florida Mall got quite a scare Thursday when an inspection on Joey Fatone’s new eatery, Fat Ones, sparked a shooting scare.
Deputies said mall management scheduled a fire suppression system test at the new hot dog kiosk.
The test is an industry-standard test and was done through a contracted vendor.
In a statement, deputies said, “The Orange County Fire Inspector was there as a witness to the test, but did not conduct the test. An announcement was made on the PA system informing shoppers and employees the test would be conducted. The test consisted of six large balloons popping consecutively, followed by a fire alarm. This caused people to go into panic mode and run.”
Multiple Twitter users reported seeing crowds rushing out of the mall, believing an active shooter was inside.
Mark Comer was with his sister inside the mall when the chaos unfolded.
He said people were screaming as they ran toward the doors.
Comer grabbed his cellphone and recorded video.
“People were bumping into things, getting stepped on, falling, children getting dragged by their arms,” said Comer.
Shoppers didn’t know until much later that the sound came from a first suppression system.
“People are actually shouting, ‘They’re shooting, they’re shooting,’” said witness Ebony Freeman.
Freeman said she was trapped inside a bathroom and had no idea if her brother was still in the mal.
“In the women’s bathroom, alone. There were men. There were children. There were older people. People were just running for cover,” said Freeman.
A spokesperson for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said the area has been cleared.
Les Morris, a mall spokesperson, said in a statement, "This afternoon at one of the food kiosks in the Dining Pavilion at Florida Mall, the Orange County Fire Marshall's office was performing a fire suppression test. As part of this test, a bladder system within the device unexpectedly popped several times, startling some customers. The test has been concluded. Florida Mall remained open and is operating as usual."
Skywitness 9 showed two ambulances outside the mall.
Deputies said four people were transported to local hospitals with minor injuries they sustained as the crowds rushed out of the building.
No other details about the incident were released.