Panic in Times Square After Backfire Mistaken for Gunshots

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2019-08-07 09:25:12

People walking in Times Square were sent into a widespread panic Tuesday night after what sounded like multiple gunshots rang out in the crowded tourist destination — only later to be ruled as motorcycle backfire, police said.

Witnesses said they saw people screaming and climbing over each other, scattering north on Broadway after loud sounds were heard at the Crossroads of the World sometime around 9:30 p.m. 

Up to 20 people were hurt in the frenzy, authorities said. Most of the people injured refused medical attention and fewer than six people went to a hospital for minor injuries, police said. 

Multiple backfires on the road happened near Eighth Avenue and West 42nd Street, according to the NYPD. Several ambulances and police patrol vehicles were still on the scene an hour after the panic calmed down. 

James Corner Field Operations, Courtesy of the Hudson River Park Trust

Crowds of people unaware of what was going on took off away from the sound. Some people thought it was gunfire and some thought there was an explosion. 

Cellphone videos from above showed groups running for their lives. Many of them rushed into stores to shield themselves for a potential bullets. Witnesses expressed being scared due to the recent mass shootings that took place in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that claimed at least 31 lives.

The NYPD’s Midtown North precinct quickly sent out a tweet to claim the anxiety that there is “no #ActiveShooter in #TimesSquare. Motorcycles backfiring while passing through sounded like gunshots … Please don’t panic. The Times Square area is very safe!”

A woman described being stuck inside a theater during the stampede, separated from her daughter.

“Everyone thought there was a shooter coming down the streets. I thought I was going to watch my daughter get shot down in front of me,” Bridget Siljander said.

Another witness said he hid in the Polo store with his girlfriend; he said staff locked them inside and they looked out and saw people screaming as they ran down the street. 

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Mayor Bill de Blasio reacted on Twitter following the incident, saying “the panic and fear people felt tonight was all too real. Nobody should have to live in constant fear of gun violence. NOBODY.”

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