Post-Christmas brawls swept across malls around the country and sent shoppers scrambling toward the exits Monday.
Almost all of the incidents were started by juveniles, police say. Some were scuffles that began at food courts. Others involved false reports of gunshots. In many cases, several social media videos documented the ensuing mass hysteria.
The seemingly similar incidents, which took place at about a dozen malls sometime between Monday afternoon and evening, left local law enforcement officials investigating what caused the fights and whether they were somehow connected.
“At this time, we don’t know,” Sgt. Chris Amsler, spokesman for the Aurora Police Department in Aurora, Colo., told reporters. “At this time, we don’t think it’s related. We just think it’s a coincidence.”
Amsler said a small fight began at the food court of the Town Center Aurora, located outside of Denver, at about 4:45 p.m. Monday and multiplied into dozens of skirmishes throughout the mall. All told, police believe about 500 people were involved. Five juveniles were arrested for charges, such as disorderly conduct, obstruction and resisting arrest.
When police tried to break up the fight in the food court, a large crowd began surrounding the officers, prompting officials to call every on-duty officer in the city for backup, according to the police department.
In Manchester, Conn., seven people, including 20-year-old Raekwon Gaines and 19-year-old Solomon Wilson-Frame, were arrested after a disturbance at The Shoppes at Buckland Hills that involved up to 10 teenagers, NBC Connecticut reported. The others who were arrested were ages 14 to 16.
A similar incident happened at about 6:30 p.m. at a mall in Beachwood, Ohio, about 20 miles outside of Cleveland. At least one juvenile in custody is suspected of assaulting a police officer, cleveland.com reported.
A Twitter video, now retweeted more than 3,500 times, shows a stampede inside the mall as shoppers race toward the exit. The tweet says there was a shooting inside, but police have determined that reports of shots fired were unfounded.
False reports of gunshots also caused a wave of panic at malls in Chattanooga, Tenn. and Elizabeth, N.J.
NBC affiliate WRCB TV reported that a group of teenagers set off fireworks to distract from a shoplifting incident at Hamilton Place in Chattanooga.
Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage said on Twitter that someone screamed “gun” after a chair was slammed, causing people to panic at The Mills at Jersey Gardens in Elizabeth. Police in tactical gears showed up. Eight to 10 people, including an 8-year-old and a 12-year-old, had minor injuries.
Similar incidents were reported at malls in Fayetteville, N.C., Indianapolis, Tempe, Ariz., Aurora, Ill., East Garden City, N.Y., Memphis and Fort Worth. The Fort Worth incident occurred at Hulen Mall in the evening. The mall was closed following the incident, but reopened on Tuesday morning.
It’s unclear how or why the fights started, but some local law enforcement point to social media.
Amsler, of the Aurora Police Department, said some type of announcement was made on social media, though he couldn’t say what it specifically said.
“There was something going on on social media about a fight that was going to take place here, which is what drew all of these people who were up to no good to our mall,” Amsler told reporters.
Police in Beachwood, Ohio, also said that the brawl there appear to have been “loosely organized on social media,” the Associated Press reported.
Investigations of the incidents, none of which resulted in life-threatening injuries, are continuing.
This year isn’t the first time that violent mall disturbances were reported the day after Christmas, when malls are crowded with shoppers taking advantage of post-holiday sales.
In 2014, a fight among teenage girls in the same mall in Beachwood, Ohio, resulted in one arrest, cleveland.com reported. Multiple fights in a mall in Pittsburgh resulted in at least two arrests, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Last year, a massive, chain-reaction brawl involving up to 2,000 people erupted in a mall in Kentucky, NBC News reported. A mall in a suburb outside of Chicago was shut down after several fights broke out among big crowds, ABC affiliate WLS reported.
Incidentally, the day after Christmas is a holiday known as Boxing Day in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.