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Police Believe Car Fire Was Mistaken For Shots, Sparked Panic At Garden State Plaza Mall

PARAMUS, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- The Garden State Plaza Mall in Paramus, N.J. was evacuated Saturday evening after a panic about shots being fired, but police believed the panic was sparked by a car fire.

At 8:09 p.m. Saturday, a car caught fire outside the Macy's store in the mall, according to Paramus police Chief Kenneth Ehrenberg. As a result, smoke started entering the mall in the area, he said.

At some point, police received calls from people saying they heard loud noises that could have been shots, Ehrenberg said. The sounds were believed to be the car bursting into flames, but shoppers were convinced otherwise at first.

"It sounded like a gunshot," one man said. "They can't tell me it wasn't."

But there was never any concrete evidence of a person shooting, police said.

"Nobody saw any gunman. Nobody saw anybody shooting anything," he said.

But a panic ensued as people began saying they had heard shots fired, and people began storming out in the mall from the Macy's all the way to the movie theater at the mall.

"We saw everyone running and panicking towards our way. We didn't know what to do, so we went into a store," another man said.

As CBS 2's Dave Carlin reported, some shoppers ran through the stores shouting a warning.

"This woman came running down screaming and shouting: 'There's a shooter in the store! Get out! Get out! Get out!'" a woman said.

There were two immediate shopper reactions. Those nearest the exits to the parking lots got out as fast as they could, while others inside stores were temporarily locked in -- some of them cowering in dressing rooms and restrooms until officers got them out.

Police evacuated most of the mall soon afterward, while some stores went into lockdown, Ehrenberg said. Police as of the 10 p.m. hour were working to evacuate some of the stores that went into lockdown mode.

A small number of people suffered minor injuries as they slipped and fell in the mall, Ehrenberg said.

"We have no gunman. We have no confirmation that there were any shots fired," he said.

As of the 10 p.m. hour, the mall was closed and police were finishing the evacuation process. The investigation continued, Ehrenberg said.

The Garden State Plaza Mall was also the subject of a horror last Nov. 4, when Richard Shoop, 20, of Teaneck walked through the mall with a rifle that had been modified to look like an AK-47, randomly firing shots before turning the gun on himself.

When the mall reopened, its owner said security had been boosted.

On Christmas Eve last year, a suspected shoplifter knocked over a display case while police tried to arrest him at Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, Long Island. But shoppers thought they had heard gunshots and raced for cover.

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