- Footage on social media shows crowds of people fleeing from Times Square on Tuesday after believing they were in the midst of an active shooting.
- New York police officials said that the crowds mistook the sounds of motorcycles backfiring for gunshots.
- Tensions are high across the nation after a weekend of mass shootings left at least 31 dead.
- The same day as the Times Square incident, shoppers at a Louisiana Walmart experienced their own shooting scare, and a falling sign in a Utah mall sent others running for safety. The following day a mistaken report of a person with a gun at a USA Today office in Virginia sparked a building evacuation.
Times Square Shooting Scare
After a weekend of mass shootings in the United States, residents in cities all over the country are on edge.
Several videos captured Tuesday night in Times Square show crowds of people running and screaming after hearing what they thought were gunshots.
However, after receiving several 911 calls, New York authorities quickly tweeted, “There is no #ActiveShooter in #TimesSquare.” According to authorities, the sound people heard was actually just motorcycles backfiring.
Still, the threat felt entirely real for those at the scene and the experience has left the community shaken. Panic set in as stampedes of people climbing over each other moved through the area. Many were screaming and crying in fear, and several briefly became separated from loved ones.
Surveillance footage from inside a Junior’s Cheesecake in Midtown showed guests diving to the ground for cover.
People Share Their Stories Online
The incident forced several stores to lock their doors. That night’s Broadway performance of To Kill a Mockingbird at the Shubert Theater also came to an early end. Celia Kennan-Bolger, who plays Scout Finch in the production, tweeted that she was giving her last speech in the play when people outside tried to get into the theater.
“This was terrifying for the audience who heard screaming & banging on the doors, so they hid or ran & tried to flee. It was terrifying for us because we didn’t know what was happening or what to do.”
on the doors, so they hid or ran & tried to flee. It was terrifying for us because we didn’t know what was happening or what to do. Our security and stage management did an amazing job of keeping people safe and as calm as possible. I’m still processing the whole experience but— Celia Keenan-Bolger (@celiakb) August 7, 2019
Other social media users in the area tweeted about their experiences as well. Many described their emotions along with what they did to try and survive.
The actors on stage fled, everyone started screaming and stampeding, I yelled and fell to the floor and tried to push my husband toward the exit.— Jaqi Cohen (@jaqicohen) August 7, 2019
be like this. It doesn’t HAVE to be like this. It’s a choice. The people making that choice need to suffer the consequences to understand. The only thoughts and prayers I’m sending up is that they do.— Brett Tubbs (@bretfurd) August 7, 2019
This broke my heart. I thought it was the end for me. I prayed and hoped that nothing would happen to me and luckily nothing did. With that said, now that I have experienced a scare like this, it solidified my feelings and opinions about guns in this country…— Omar (@tall_omes1) August 7, 2019
The number of people who were injured in the commotion is unclear, though local authorities told NBC New York that the amount is up to 20. The station reported that most who were injured refused medical attention and added that less than six went to the hospital for minor injuries.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also tweeted about the scare, saying “the panic and fear people felt tonight was all too real. Nobody should have to live in constant fear of gun violence. NOBODY.”
Other Recent Scares
The fear of mass shootings in public spaces has felt more real than ever for many across the nation.
The same day as the scare in New York, shoppers inside of a Louisiana Walmart feared they were in the center of a shooting. At least one person was injured while fleeing the area, the local sheriff’s office told WVLA of Baton Rouge.
The East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office said that there was an initial report of two men shooting, but it appeared there was an altercation between two men where a handgun may have been seen.
“When customers saw the handgun, panic set in, and customers were running and screaming while trying to exit the store,” the sheriff’s office said. “Given the recent events in El Paso and Dayton, and given the initial information we received via 911 calls and witnesses exiting the store, we responded with what we feel is appropriate.”
Another false alarm shook West Valley City, Utah on Tuesday night when a shopping mall was evacuated. Shoppers at the Valley Fair Mall panicked after hearing a loud sound that they also mistook for gunfire.
However, local police explained that there was no active shooter in a tweet. “People heard a loud bang which was actually the sound of a sign falling,” authorities said. “There is no danger. No one is hurt.”
USA Today‘s headquarters in McLean, Virginia was also evacuated Wednesday morning after what authorities said turned out to be a mistaken report of a person with a weapon at the suburban Washington office.
Tensions are high after the two recent shootings that hit Texas and Ohio. A gunman opened fire at a crowded Walmart in El Paso on Saturday, killing at least 22 and wounding more than 20 others. The following day, another shooter in Dayton, Ohio opened fire in an entertainment district, killing 9 and wounding several others.
Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murderers or suspected mass murderers who may have been seeking attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.
Fire Officials Warn of Viral TikTok “Outlet Challenge”
- Massachusetts firefighters are warning of an electrical “outlet challenge” seen on Tiktok that can cause fires or electrocution.
- The challenge involves partially inserting a cell phone charger into an outlet and trying to produce a spark by touching the exposed prongs with a penny.
- In two local schools, teens started a fire or torched outlets and are now facing charges of arson, attempted arson, and malicious damage to property.
“Outlet Challenge” Warning
Massachusetts fire officials are warning of a dangerous electrical “outlet challenge” spreading across TikTok after at least three reported incidents raised concerns.
The challenge involves partially inserting a cell phone charger into an outlet, then trying to produce a spark by touching the exposed prongs with a penny.
Massachusetts Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey issued a letter to all of the state’s fire chiefs on Monday warning of the viral social media challenge that has lead to copycat behavior. In the memo, Ostroskey said that his office had already received reports of two instances where teens tried to recreate the stunt.
“The result is sparks, electrical system damage, and in some cases fire,” Ostroskey wrote.
He advised fire officials to reach out to local news outlets, school officials, and parent organizations to make them aware of this trend, writing, “Alert them to this challenge, advise them to, not only look for signs of fire play like scorched outlets, but to have conversations about fire and electrical safety with tweens and teenagers.”
Charges Against Teens Involved
One of the incidents Ostroskey cited resulted in damage to an outlet inside a home. The other sparked a fire inside Westford Academy. The spark at Westford Academy created smoke that set off the school’s fire alarm, local authorities reported.
The student responsible for that incident is now facing charges, including arson and malicious damage to property, Westford Police Captain Victor Neal told CNN.
Meanwhile, NBC Boston reported that two students at Plymouth North High School were caught attempting the challenge twice in a matter of minutes inside a classroom on Tuesday.
Firefighters found two scorched outlets and a phone charger with a penny fused to the prongs, according to Plymouth Fire Chief Edward Bradley. There were no injuries, but the school’s superintendent Gary Maestas said the students involved could face serious consequences.
“We are working with the Plymouth Police and Fire Departments to fully understand the scope of this issue and pursue charges to the fullest extent of the law,” Maestas wrote in a statement.
Plymouth police said the two 15-year-old male students face charges of attempted arson and malicious damage to property under $1,200.
Dangers of the Stunt
“I don’t think students comprehend the reality that they can be electrocuted and killed, or start a fire,” said Chief Bradley.
Aside from starting fires or facing potential electrocution, Bradley said the challenge could also cause damage to electrical wiring behind walls, which could allow fires to burn within the walls undetected and endanger everyone in the building.
“Social media elevates it,” Bradley added. “They see it online, they see someone do it, they start laughing, they run away and no one gets hurt and they assume the same will happen when they do it, so they think it’s funny to do it in a classroom.”
“Parents need to talk to their children and tell them if you see this stuff, don’t try to imitate it.”
Virginia Senate Votes in Favor of ‘Red Flag’ Gun Bill
- Virginia’s Senate passed a “red flag” law, which allows law enforcement to temporarily take firearms away from an individual who is deemed a threat to themselves or others.
- The vote was close and fully along party lines, with 21 Democrats voting in favor and 19 Republicans voting against it.
- Democrats believe the law will prevent gun violence in the state, but Republicans see it as a threat to the Second Amendment.
- The vote happened just a few days after a large, and mainly peaceful, pro-gun rally was held in Virginia’s capital, Richmond.
- The bill still has to go to the state’s House of Delegates, which has a slight Democratic majority.
Red Flag Law Passes Senate
Virginia’s State Senate narrowly passed a bill Wednesday allowing law enforcement to temporarily confiscate firearms from someone deemed a threat, commonly referred to as a ‘red flag’ law.
The tight vote was strictly along party lines, with all 21 Democrats in the Senate voting yes, and 19 Republicans voting no. The bill, SB 240 specifically states that a law-enforcement officer or attorney can apply for an emergency substantial risk order. This order would “prohibit a person who poses a substantial risk of injury to himself or others from purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm.”
If that order is issued, a judge or magistrate can issue a search warrant allowing for firearms to be temporarily removed from that person. Democrats in Virginia have long been fighting for gun-control measures to be passed. They stand behind SB 240 because they believe it will lead to fewer mass shootings and other forms of gun violence in general.
State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32) tweeted that she believes this bill will prevent crime.
Sen. George Barker (D-39) first introduced the bill. According to the Washington Post, he said it moved the state in “a positive direction” and the law could “protect lives and reduce violence in Virginia.”
State Democrats are not alone in supporting this measure. Nationally, red flag laws generally have a lot of support from the public. According to an August 2019 study from APM Research Lab, Americans are generally in favor of these kinds of legislation.
The study found that 77% support family initiated orders and 70% support police initiated orders. Even when it comes to political parties, both a majority of Republicans and Democrats support it. Gun owners also support it, though by a lesser margin, with 67% of the demographic supporting family initiated orders and 60% supporting police initiated ones.
Still, Virginia’s Senate Republicans were strongly opposed to the measure. They believed it was a heavy infringement on peoples’ right to bear arms.
“Each legislator that votes in favor of this bill in my opinion is a traitor to Virginia, a traitor to the Second Amendment and a traitor to our constitutional freedoms,” said Republican Sen. Amanda Chase (D-11).
The NRA called SB 240 an “unnecessary attack on Second Amendment rights.”
Pro-Gun Rally and What Happens Next
SB 240 is one of many gun control laws Virginia is working on passing. This Senate vote came just a few days after a major pro-gun rights rally happened in Richmond, Virginia’s capital city.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency ahead of Monday’s event, and guns were not allowed at the rally, largely over fears that there could be a repeat of what happened in Charlottesville in 2017.
According to reports, about 22,000 people attended the rally, which remained largely peaceful. No violence was reported, though some extremist groups were present.
At the rally, several of the gun-rights activists spoke out against the gun control legislation floating through Virginia. One clip from the rally, shared by BuzzFeed News reporter Andrew Kimmel went viral. In it, Richard Vaughan, Sheriff of Grayson County in Virginia, said he and his county would not enforce enacted gun control legislation.
This is Sheriff Richard Vaughan of Grayson County, VA. “If the bills go through as proposed, they will not be enforced. They are unconstitutional.” This is not true, according to the Exec. Dir. of the VA Assoc. of Chiefs of Police… #Richmond2ARally pic.twitter.com/mjpQupE6of— Andrew Kimmel (@andrewkimmel) January 20, 2020
“If the bills go through as proposed, they will not be enforced,” he said. “They are unconstitutional. We support and uphold the constitution of the United States and the constitution of Virginia. And that’s what we’ll do.”
SB 240 is not set in stone yet, though. The bill still has to go to Virginia’s House of Delegates, which has a Democratic majority but only by a slim margin.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (WRIC ABC 8)
Michelle Carter, Who Encouraged Her Boyfriend’s Suicide, Released From Prison Early
- Michelle Carter was released early from prison for good behavior after serving 11 months of her 15-month sentence for involuntary manslaughter.
- Carter was charged in 2017 after encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself through text messages and phone calls as he contemplated suicide.
- Her release comes about a week after the US Supreme Court said it would not hear her appeal to overturn her conviction.
Who is Michelle Carter?
Michelle Carter, the Massachusetts woman who encouraged her boyfriend’s suicide when she was 17-year-old, was released from prison Thursday, months ahead of schedule.
The now 23-year-old was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in 2017 after making a series of texts and calls to 18-year-old Conrad Roy III, convincing him to carry out plans to take his own life. Roy died by suicide in 2014 when he poised himself with carbon monoxide inside of his pickup truck.
According to investigators, Carter suggested multiple ways for Roy to end his life and at one point even pushed him to return to his car when he was having second thoughts.
Carter was released from the women’s center at the Bristol County House of Corrections after serving 11 months of her 15-month sentence. She had previously been denied parole in September but according to the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, she has now earned enough credit for good behavior and attending jail programs to qualify for an early exit.
“Ms. Carter has been a model inmate in Bristol County,” a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. “She has attended programs, had a job inside the jail, has been polite to our staff and volunteers, has gotten along with other inmates, and we’ve had no discipline issues with her whatsoever.”
Carter’s released comes about a week after the US Supreme Court said it would not hear her appeal to vacate her conviction.
During her 2017 sentencing, the judge ruled that her “virtual presence” made her responsible for Roy’s death. Her legal team fought against the verdict, but Carter ultimately began serving her prison sentence last February after Massachusetts’ highest court refused to overturn her conviction.
Carter’s lawyers then filed a petition to the Supreme Court last July, arguing that it was against her First Amendment rights to free speech to convict her “based on words alone.” Her lawyers also questioned whether the conviction was constitutional in regard to the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause.
The Supreme Court’s refusal to see Carter’s case left her conviction intact and while she has now completed her time behind bars, Carter still has five years of probation to serve.
In response to the news of her release, Roy’s family said, “news of the Supreme Court denying to hear her case far out shadowed the news of her early release. Her time in jail, no matter how long or short, will not change the outcome of a guilty verdict which is thankfully being upheld.”
“July 12, 2014, our lives were forever changed, and the world lost a beautiful soul. Michelle Carter is the reason for that,” the statement continued. “She was the only person who could have saved him. She didn’t, in fact she was on the line with him as he was dying, moaning in pain, gasping for last breaths. Who could do that?”
“She did, and we’ll never really know why.”