HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Chaos and panic broke out at Memorial City Mall Sunday afternoon after a masked suspect made a suicidal threat and sent a swarm of shoppers running for safety. Authorities have now identified that suspect.
According to surveillance video, investigators said the suspect was first spotted going up the escalators to the movie theatre. When the suspect came back down a few minutes later, he had put on what’s described as a red, half mask. Authorities said the suspect then slowly trotted towards the center of the food court where he jumped on a table, and declared to the crowd that he was going to kill himself.
Police said the suspect then dropped an unidentified object in a bag and fled towards the south exit of the mall near some apartment complexes.
Harris County Precinct 5 Constable Ted Heap said the suspect’s threat sent the crowd into panic mode.
“People ran in hysteria when somebody said they were going to kill themselves and it escalated from there,” Heap said.
Patrica and Armando Mariel were in the middle of it.
"All of a sudden you hear a stampede of people, and we turned around and they're running through the aisles saying, 'you've gotta leave the building, you've gotta leave the building.'" said Patricia.
"I was waiting for someone with a gun and the thing on his ears just trying to kill," added Armando.
They ran, got separated, and then were reunited in the parking lot where they shot some video of the chaos.
Initial reports said there were fireworks at the scene but police said that was not true.
“None of the witnesses said anything about fireworks. In the chaos, people may have just assumed it was an active shooter but there's no evidence that there was shots fired or firecrackers,” said Houston Police Asst. Chief Sheryl Victorian.
“You could’ve heard a pop when that bag was thrown down on the ground, but there was definitely no active shooter,” Heap said.
Aalyssa Carrillo was looking for a parking spot when she spotted the swarm of horrified people running out of various exits of the mall, some scrambling to get into their cars.
“First thing that comes to my mind is there's an active shooter inside, and we need to get as far away as possible,” Carrillo said.
“All the people coming outside and the looks on their faces and them hollering and people on the phone, carrying kids, kids running-- you know, it was just really scary to see. We started seeing ambulance cars start pulling up. People were just driving crazy. People were running red lights trying to get out of the mall,” Carrillo continued.
There's no motive for the shooting, at least not for the man, but there's plenty of motive for the people who fled.
There's the mass shooting in the El Paso Walmart. There's the Dayton mass shooting. Then on Thursday, a man in tactical gear and body armor toting a rifle showed up in a Missouri Walmart. Then over the weekend, a Florida white supremacist threatened on Facebook to show up at Walmart with an AR-15.
So yes, people are jumpy right now.
If people hear a bang or see people running, they will react. As for the Maciels, they make no apology for it.
"Your not going to wait and see if it's real. No you are going to run. You're going to run," said Patricia.
Authorities said some shoppers banged on the doors of two off-duty Harris County Sheriff’s Deputies who happened to be stationed in the mall’s parking lot.
The investigation has now become a joint effort from federal, state and local authorities who are searching for the man they say made a terroristic threat. Authorities describe the suspect as a white, male in his late teens or early 20s.
Authorities said two people—a 16-year-old boy and his mother sustained minor injuries were sent to the hospital for treatment.
“They got caught up in the mass hysteria of the exit. It appears we probably have a minor ankle or leg injury and then the mother was stepped on a couple times on her back as she was trying to help her son,” Heap said.
Shoppers who may have left belongings behind amidst the chaos may pick them up from the mall’s customer service during business hours on Monday.
Authorities said the suspect is not in custody yet.
Anyone who knows anything about this incident is urged to call Crimestoppers at 713-222-TIPS.