Motorcycle backfire causes panic in Times Square as crowd mistakes sound for gunshot in NYC


New York — There was widespread panic Tuesday night in Times Square after crowds mistook a backfiring motorcycle for gunfire and a possible mass shooting, CBS New York reports. The bike was in a large group of motorcycles traveling through the area at the time.

In the wake of last weekend’s mass shootings in  and Dayton, chaos quickly ensued as people raced to escape what they thought could be an active shooter carrying out an attack. Witnesses called it a stampede as people ran away from the area down nearby streets into restaurants, stores and even theaters.

Social media users claimed some people screamed “shooter,” sending more people stampeding in fear. Many people reported hearing the bangs, but didn’t react until the crowds started screaming and running. Others didn’t know what was going on and simply followed suit, confused and scared.

Several pedestrians were hurt in the stampede. NYPD officials told CBS New York 22 people were injured, four of whom were sent to a nearby hospital.

Gideon Glick, who plays Dill Harris in “To Kill a Mockingbird” on Broadway, tweeted some of the screaming people fleeing the scene stormed the Schubert Theatre. The stampede made its way into the theater, scaring patrons under their seats and disrupting the production as the cast fled the stage. The production did not continue.

Nearby at Junior’s Restaurant & Bakery, a tourist hot spot, patrons dove under tables as those escaping Times Square made their panicked way into the restaurant. Some crawled on the ground as they made their way from the street to the door. Inside, patrons were packed together sitting on the floor, shoulder to shoulder amid spilled drinks knocked over in the chaos. 

CBS New York said people were literally running out of their shoes, dropping their bags, jumping over counters, even trampling those who couldn’t keep up. Lots of children were crying. Abandoned shoes and purses could be seen on and around the outdoor tables at Junior’s.

“They jumped out of shoes,” a Times Square employee said. “There were shoes everywhere.”

Motorcycle backfire or gunshot?

A Twitter user caught the backfire sounds while capturing video of buildings in Times Square. She posted her video opining the noise didn’t sound like a motorcycle backfiring.

I”It sounded like gunshots, it definitely did,” Harlem resident Even Dore told CBS New York. “Two or three thousand people, maybe, just dissipated into thin air,” he added.

Times Square always has a noticeable police presence, though  additional NYPD units quickly arrived on the scene due to a flood of 911 calls. The NYPD was quick to point out the situation was safe on Twitter.

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio also took to Twitter to tell New Yorkers the scene was safe and to condemn the culture of fear.

“Times Square is safe and secure, but the panic and fear people felt tonight was all too real,” he wrote. “Nobody should have to live in constant fear of gun violence. NOBODY.”

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