MORROW, Ga. - Reports of a potential active shooter at a busy movie theater in Morrow on National Cinema Day led to widespread panic and a massive police response.
Now, investigators say the whole thing may have been a prank.
"I did not hear gunshots outside, and I know gunshots," Major Mark Wooddall with the Morrow Police Department told FOX 5.
Just hours after an active shooter in Jacksonville killed three people, officers from every agency in Clayton County swarmed the AMC theater at Southlake Mall in response to a deputy reporting the sound of shots fired inside just before 8:15 p.m.
"If something of this magnitude – or even smaller – occurs, we’re going to pursue," Wooddall said.
He recalled being in the parking lot of the theater as chaos ensued and a stampede of movie goers ran for safety. Wooddall told FOX 5 within the hour, authorities had cleared the building and determined no weapons or shell casings were found.
"[The] reasonable deduction is a bunch of youngsters probably planned something," he said.
Fights involving teens reported hours earlier at another metro Atlanta mall also came with concerns of an active shooter.
Wooddall said with no evidence of shots fired in their case, investigators turned their attention to social media where hundreds of users could be seen pulling smaller "shots fired" pranks.
"It’s plausible to assume some sort of a speaker with the sound of gunshots might’ve been used to fool people into thinking there were shots fired," he explained.
A similar incident was reported at Arbor Place Mall last year. Wooddall said he hopes this will serve as a lesson to both teens and parents.
"It’s important to let the young people know not to play such a big game. It takes away from the people who really need 911 assistance, and also it’s costly," he said.
Morrow police said at this point, they’re unable to trace the origins of the alleged prank any further unless something surfaces publicly online, but that they are continuing to monitor social media platforms.