Shoppers and employees at the Oaks Mall ran for cover Saturday evening after they thought they heard gunshots fired.
But it was a false alarm, according to the Gainesville Police Department (GPD).
“Turned out to only be fireworks,” GPD spokesman Graham Glover told Mainstreet Daily News Saturday evening. “Nobody hurt. Nobody detained.”
Witnesses said the perpetrators set off firecrackers near the food court at close to 6:30 p.m., sparking a stampede of people running into stores for cover.
Rhiannon Roberts, an assistant manager at Francesca’s Boutique, was still shaking after the incident when she talked to Mainstreet Daily News in a phone interview.
“Out of nowhere a loud commotion and popping noises,” she said about what she witnessed. “We had a boutique full of customers and we looked at each other, then saw a sea of people running, screaming, yelling and trying to get out. Customers looked at us like what do we do? So we grabbed them and took them into the back room.”
Roberts said her manager ran back out to lock the door.
“I asked was anyone was carrying anything and one guy said had a concealed permit but no gun on him,” she said. “We had no idea what was going on and I thought, ‘Is this actually happening? Could I die today?'”
Roberts said she saw armed Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) deputies and police flood in as stores were quickly locked.
By 8 p.m. Roberts was home but said she “came off the adrenaline high and started shaking. We all thought for sure that we could actually die and felt like sitting ducks.”
Another shopper who witnessed the event did not want to be identified but reported what transpired around 6:10 p.m.
“There was something that sounded like gunshots,” the person said. “There were people running around and the Gainesville Police Department and ACSO came within minutes and surrounded the food court area.
“People inside hid in their stock rooms and hunkered down. Everyone thought they were gunshots. Later many workers stated they were told it was a youth who set firecrackers off at the food court entrance area.”
On Facebook, Windsor Fashions Melissa Follansbee confirmed the incident was fireworks.
“I heard them go off and evacuated my store immediately,” she wrote. “It sounded like an assault rifle going off. I saw the debris personally.”
Some local residents took to social media asking authorities to clarify what happened.
“@GainesvillePD need info please about what happened at the Oaks Mall tonight,” Twitter user Hollis Wooley wrote at 8:16 p.m. “My daughter and I were there and in a store next to the ‘rapid noise’ that happened. We took off terrified with a ton of people.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.