Updated: Sep 21, 2019
By Iman Khosrodad
Panic and chaos spread throughout Times Square in New York City on August 6 after the sound of a motorcycle backfire was mistaken for gunshots.
After the motorcycle backfired at around 10 P.M., the loud noise triggered crowds from inside the Shubert Theater to rush to emergency exits, while people outside the theater started to attempt to push their way inside to safety. Others took cover in various places such as restaurants and stores. At least 12 were injured, and four have been hospitalized, but all are expected to fully recover. By 10:20 p.m. the New York Police Department announced that Times Square was completely safe, tweeting “there is no #ActiveShooter in #TimesSquare. Motorcycles backfiring while passing through sounded like gunshots”.
This incident occurring only 3 days after mass shootings in both El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. Times Square was feared to be the third mass shooting within this short time span.
Following what had happened, people took to social media to explain the matter at hand. Celia Kennan-Bolger, an actor in the production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” at Shubert Theater at the time, wrote on Twitter, “tonight during my last speech in the play there was panic at our theater because a motorcycle backfired near Shubert Alley and people believed there was an active shooter and tried to get into the theater for safety. This was terrifying for the audience who heard screaming and banging.”
Another actor in the production, Merle Dandridge, tweeted during the mayhem inside the theater, people were “crouched on the floor.” She continued to share her concern, saying “this is our world now” and that she is “scared for our country.” Several additional cast members, as well as audience members and civilians, expressed similar messages.
This is not the first time a false alarm concerning gun violence caused widespread public panic. On August 6, the very same day as the incident in New York, customers at a Utah mall were evacuated after several people mistook the sound of a sign falling to be gunshots. An additional instance occurred in 2016 when people inside the JFK airport reported hearing gunfire. The police investigation on the case brought to light the fact that there were never any shots fired. Instead, the noises that were mistaken for shots were, in fact, the rumblings from a nearby sports bar.
Due to the increase in the number of shootings and gun violence in public places recently, a certain level of fear has put people constantly on edge during day to day activities. This normalization of gun violence has, in turn, lead to instances such as the one that mistakenly took place in New York this past summer.