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Fear of mass shootings, 'herd response' blamed for Crabtree panic

Posted August 15, 2016

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— The sound of gunfire inside Crabtree Valley Mall on Saturday sparked panic and sent everyone running out of the Raleigh shopping mall.

Police never found a gunman, any wounded victims or even shell casings after hours of searching, however, and despite widespread reports that investigators removed a piece of ceiling with holes in it, authorities say it's unlikely there ever was a shooting.

Still, psychologist Don Azevedo said the reaction of the crowd was understandable, given the number of mass shootings around the country in recent months and years.

"In the back of our minds, we're thinking the world is much more dangerous. So, any sound can be interpreted as this is a gunshot," Azevedo said Monday.

Police are still trying to determine what set off pandemonium inside the Crabtree Valley food court and have been examining video from dozens of security cameras inside the mall.

Carolynn Cerul was in the food court at the time and said she never heard anything that sounded like a gunshot or saw anything that made her feel unsafe, but she joined in the mass exodus.

"I heard all of the chairs in the food court move all at once, and everybody seemed to stampede and bolt in all directions," said Cerul, who works at Benefit, an eyebrow waxing and sculpting salon in the mall. "The crowd seemed to be running from something or from someone. Not knowing exactly what it was that we were running from, they were running from something. So, it sparked a fear in you – just follow suit."

In the chaos, 21 people were injured, including 12 who had to be taken to local hospitals, according to Wake County EMS officials.

"There was actually a woman who fell right in front of me, and I had to hurdle myself over her," Cerul said. "I wasn't able to stop, try to help her up or even go back because there were so many people running around me and behind me. It was chaos."

Azevedo said the idea of gunfire nearby can spread quickly and create a herd response.

"There was the communication, 'There's a gun somewhere.' That went much further than the actual gunshot," he said. "They thought, 'If other people are running, I'm going to run with them.' That's part of the mentality of herd response."

People should be prepared to encounter danger in a public space and have a plan for responding, he said.

"If you've got a plan and you know what to do, all of this becomes much less frightening," he said.

Crabtree Valley returned to normal operations on Sunday, and by Monday, a steady flow of shoppers had returned to the mall and the food court.

"I'm really happy it wasn't the worst-case scenario. I do feel silly after the fact for panicking," Cerul said. "I hope that it was just a prank or a misunderstanding that sparked mass panic."


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  • Sean Creasy Aug 16, 12:25 p.m.
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    State the most recent case of a CCP in NC "carelessly" shooting someone please. Also just where in NC has a CCP holder blamed their child for shooting themselves? Keep drinking that Kool Aid....

  • Sean Creasy Aug 16, 12:21 p.m.
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    .....And your picture is???

  • Aiden Audric Aug 16, 12:20 p.m.
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    There was a noise. It sounded like a gun. People panicked.

    It was a gun and the casings were not ejected, or were picked up.
    It was a 'starter's gun' and the casings were picked up.
    It was all caught on camera and the officials aren't letting us know what's up because they were involved.

    Dunno- lots of ideas floating around.

  • Thomas White Aug 16, 12:16 p.m.
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    Most of us are not so afraid of our own shadow that we need a gun to protect ourselves from it. I would fear most of the concealed carry people more then a random person with a gun because random people with guns for some reason end up shooting a lot less people then the careless concealed carry people who think the gun should sit on a table or at the front door just in case of an intruder. Even when a concealed carry person's gun kills one of their own children they blame the child.

  • Thomas White Aug 16, 12:12 p.m.
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    You tell the people to man up and quite hiding behind fake screen names and you post your picture as a wolf. lol

  • John Smith Aug 16, 12:08 p.m.
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    +1. Seemed like every 5 mins break in with the same story "we really don't know what's going on...but, oh hey, let's look at live footage of Glenwood shut down" At least they got smart and did a split screen.

  • Sean Creasy Aug 16, 9:54 a.m.
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    And when was the last time you "heard" about one of these "yahoos" going down? If you don't want to own or carry a gun that's fine then don't but don't belittle people who don't want to have to rely solely on law enforcement for their personal protection... These aren't "chest beaters" or "yahoos". They are law abiding citizens who accept the reality that the police are almost never there when you really need them and have decided that they won't just curl up in a ball and wait to die but would rather at least have the chance to fight back instead of waiting for someone with a gun to eventually show up.. Oh and one other thing.. Man up and quit hiding behind some fake screen name because it make you look like a coward...

  • Teddy Fowler Aug 16, 9:39 a.m.
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    The worst thing was the television coverage of this non-event... interfering with the Olympics!!!!

  • Mike Jones Aug 16, 9:04 a.m.
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    Lots of tough guys chest beating bout CC rights, but every time I hear about a yahoo like that, they're the first to go down.

  • Jason Marks Aug 16, 9:02 a.m.
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    It was probaley some punk teenagers who planned on trying to start a panic. And all just got up and started running and screaming to get others to follow