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Active Shooter Fears Prompt After Christmas Chaos At Area Malls

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Malls are usually chaotic the day after Christmas, but not like this.

Panicked crowds ran for their lives at malls in 10 cities across country, including Memphis, Louisville and Fort Worth, Texas. In each case, unfounded fears of an active shooter sent customers into panic mode, CBS2's Magdalena Doris reported.

In New Jersey, police responded to The Mills at Jersey Gardens Monday evening after an altercation prompted a panic among shoppers around 5 p.m.

Police initially received reports of gunshots inside the mall, prompting law enforcement officials with long guns to search the food court after shoppers heard a sudden, sharp, loud noise.

"It sounded like shots to me," shopper Carol Kuhn told CBS2's Tony Aiello. "I've heard gunfire before and that's what it sounds like to me."

Police said the noise was the sound of a chair falling to the floor during the pandemonium, 1010 WINS' Carol D'Auria reported.

Goran Gulmac and his family got caught up in the chaos.

"It was like a complete mess, nobody knows what's happening," he said.

People screamed and ran for cover, and a store manager said some customers used his business as a hiding place.

"We kind of took them out through the back door into the parking lots, but it was pretty scary," he told CBS2's Tracee Carrasco, "We were trained for that. Every year we were trained for an active shooter."

Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage told CBS2 that two separate fights had broken out at the same time.

"There were four young women who were in the food court area, and there were some young men trying to buy cigarettes. Between those two groups the police department is reviewing footage from the mall," he said.

In one of the fights a chair was thrown, the situation made worse by social media.

"Someone yelled shots fired, and therefore the social media, and word throughout the mall spread very, very quickly. They were sending out messages of dire threats, and in effect that led to some of the chaos," Mayor Bollwage said.

Shoppers at Jersey Gardens on Tuesday, said they weren't completely scared off by the mall brawls.

"Whenever you hear about something like that it always makes you wonder, oh, well what if it happens again today?" Christian Bradley said, "We still gotta shop regardless. You can't let every little thing scare you from living your life."

It was a similar scene at the Roosevelt Field Mall on Long Island, where a large fight broke out in the food court at around 6:30 p.m., causing a "large stampede."

The altercation led to more than 70 calls to 911 and resulted in minor injuries to at least seven people.

"They had bumps and bruises, one individual had a laceration to his head," Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun, of the Nassau County Police Department, said.

The food court fight sent chairs and tables crashing to the ground.

"Those type of sounds could mimic the sound of a shot fired to someone who doesn't know what a shot fired sounds like and then all of a sudden they start running,"LeBrun said.

Nassau County police are checking surveillance video to identify the people involved in the fight.

It was business as usual at Roosevelt Field on Tuesday.

"Probably hundreds of thousands of people are visiting malls in Nassau county every day without incident so I think this is pretty much an isolated incident," LeBrun said.

There was also a similar scene in at the Shoppes at Buckland Hills Mall and Westfarms Mall in Connecticut, WCBS 880's Marla Diamond reported. Several people have been arrested and charged with trespassing, breach of peace and interfering with an officer in connection with the Buckland Hills incident.

No arrests were made in New Jersey or Long Island.

All of the reports of active shooters across the country were unfounded.

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