Nation-wide mall brawls have authorities eyeing social media

SAN FRANCISCO (WABC) -- Police are trying to determine if social media was partly responsible for violence and chaos erupting in malls across America.

From New Jersey to Arizona, commotion inside malls in at least nine states had police rushing in as shoppers rushed to get out.

In New Jersey, a fight inside a food court was mistaken for gunfire. It happened at the The Mills at Jersey Gardens in Elizabeth.

City officials said there was no shooting in the mall and that the loud noise was the sound of a chair slamming down on the floor during the chaos. But witnesses said that somebody yelled "shooter," and after that, chaos ensued. Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage says between eight to 10 people were injured during the mayhem, including two pregnant women. Additionally, 12-year-old broke his leg, while an 8-year-old child suffered a cut finger.

Bollwage doubts the incident is linked to other similar panics caused at malls across the country, which included another at Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City. A large fight broke out just before 7 p.m., causing a chaotic scene at the mall's food court. There were rumors of a shooting, but police say no shots were fired.

In Connecticut, police charged seven people in connection with a series of fights at the Shoppes at Buckland Hills Mall in Manchester that took officers from several departments to control. Manchester police say men ages 20 and 19, as well as boys ages 16, 15, and 14, and a 15-year-old girl are facing charges including trespassing, breach of peace, and interfering with an officer.

Police say what started as a disturbance involving eight to 10 teens escalated into a "chaotic situation" and several fights. One officer was assaulted but did not require medical attention. There were no reports of weapons being used, and no evidence the fights were gang-related.

Elsewhere, fireworks igniting inside a store in Tennessee started a brawl, while police in Aurora, Colorado, say fights there were organized on social media.

"There was something that was going around on social media about a fight that was going to take place here, at the Town Center of Aurora, which is what drew all of these people who were up to no good to our mall," Aurora Police Sgt. Chris Amsler told ABC News.

The Post-Standard of Syracuse reported a large brawl broke out Monday night on the second level of Destiny USA, upstate New York's largest mall. Shoppers say the chaos erupted shortly before 9:30 p.m., when most stores in the complex typically close. Mall security asked people to leave the mall and blocked entry to the mall after the fight broke out.

A mall outside Cleveland was placed on lockdown after a large group of teens caused a disturbance at around 6:30 p.m. Monday, police said, while in Beachwood, Ohio, police announced that the fighting was "loosely organized on social media." A juvenile was arrested there for alleged disorderly conduct after officers dispersed the crowd and removed them from the Beachwood Place mall.

In Aurora, Illinois, several fights broke out Monday night at the Fox Valley mall, a suburb of Chicago, causing police to evacuate the premises.

Mallgoers captured the chaotic moments on their cellphones and posted photos and videos to social media as terrified shoppers went scrambling for the exits. The problems began around 7 p.m., according to officials.

The Aurora Police Department said that it was called in to assist with "an unruly crowd in the common area," followed by a fight in the food court and "several other smaller altercations."

Police there are working to determine what caused the fights, telling ABC News they are looking into social media to see whether the incident may have been planned.

In North Carolina, chaos erupted at a mall in Fayetteville, and emergency medical personnel were called in to assist someone who had a medical episode while fleeing.

In Memphis, Tennessee, police arrested several people after fights at two malls there.

Dozens of people were arrested across the country in the melees, mostly for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Police in other cities are investigating to see if social media is to blame as well.
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