The Broadway cast of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ fled the stage as crowds stormed the theater after bangs caused by a motorbike backfiring in Times Square was confused for gunfire.
Loud bangs rang out across Eighth Avenue and West 42nd Street at around 9.30pm, traumatizing tourists who thought they were hearing the sounds of gunfire.
Pandemonium broke out inside New York’s Shubert Theater as crowds stormed inside to escape, causing some audience members to dive under their seats while others fled fearing for their lives.
Actress Celia Keenan-Bolger described the incident as ‘terrifying’ for the audience who heard ‘screaming & banging…on the doors, so they hid or ran & tried to flee.’
The recent Tony Award winner added that it scared the cast too who did know what was happening but were thankful to security and stage management.
‘[They] did an amazing job of keeping people safe and as calm as possible,’ she wrote on social media.
Fellow cast member Gideon Glick tweeted: ‘Screaming civilians tried to storm our theater for safety. The audience started screaming and the cast fled the stage.’
The incident injured nine and hospitalized six.
It would later transpire that the sound, similar to gunshots, was caused by at least one motorcycle in a gang of six backfired multiple times.
NYPD Chief of Counterterrorism James Waters said that they would get to the bottom of whether bikers tried to scare people with the sounds, mere days after mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas.
‘It would be unconscionable in this day and age for someone to do something like that,’ he told PIX11. ‘It seems to be a bridge too far, but our detectives are good at finding that out.’
Waters later added: ‘One or more of the cops knew right away that this was motorcycles.
‘But to the untrained ear of civilians and tourists transiting through Times Square with El Paso and Dayton on their minds, they ran.
‘They did everything we plead them to do — run. If they can’t run, we ask them to hide, and if they can’t hide, we ask them to fight as if their lives depended on it.’
The popping sounds sparked a stampede as footage showed crowds of people fleeing in terror, with some flocking towards West 47th Street and Seventh Avenue, police told WNBC.
One pedestrian was injured from a fall sustained while running during the frenzy, police told the outlet, while kids were also separated from their parents.
Witnesses claimed that they watched people screaming and falling over one another as they ran southwards on Broadway.
The NYPD’s Midtown North Precinct tweeted at 10.09 pm: ‘There is no#ActiveShooter in #TimesSquare. Motorcycles backfiring while passing through sounded like gun shots.
‘We are receiving multiple 911 calls. Please don’t panic. The Times Square area is very safe! @NYPDnews @NYPDTimesSquare.’
A construction management company called @TheDanielsGroup tweeted: ‘People fleeing and hiding from #timessquare after suspected live shooter #NewYork we caught this from our hotel bar 10th floor #police confirmed this was not a live shooter #timessquare #NYC.’
Some social media users reported hearing someone scream ‘shooter’ after hearing the backfiring motorcycle, according to CBS.
‘It sounded like gunshots, it definitely did. Two or three thousand people, maybe, just dissipated into thin air,’ Harlem resident Evan Dore told CBS New York.
Ace Guzman, who works in Times Square, witnessed the stampede. He said: ‘[People] were all running, like running everywhere. Almost got hit by cars and everything. They jumped out of shoes. There were shoes everywhere.’
‘Hats and shoes, anything, they dropped, they didn’t care, just kept going, which you would if you’re thinking somebody is about to kill me,’ tourist Susan Ryan added.
In the frenzy, a Times Square street performer dressed as the Pokemon character Pikachu could be seen running for his life with the head of his costume in his hands.
Police said 22 people were hurt in the chaos, four of whom were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
The incident occurred just as many theatergoers were leaving Broadway plays for the evening.
One Twitter user claimed: ‘So we’re in Times Square and everyone starts running and screaming “SHOOTER.”
‘So we start running and bust into Richard Rodgers Theatre: The Home of Hamilton. Everyone is frantic and crying and Beth and I are SHAKING bc we’re on the stage where @Lin_Manuel performed.’
Broadway actor Gideon Glick shared how the performance of To Kill A Mockingbird had to be halted after terrified crowds tried to storm the theater to find safety, sparking panic in the audience and forcing the cast to abandon the stage.
He tweeted: ‘Stopped our show tonight due to a motorcycle backfire that was mistaken for a bomb or a shooting… This is the world we live in. This cannot be our world.’
Activist Cameron Kasky, who co-founded the student-led gun violence prevention group Never Again and helped organize the March For Our Lives, tweeted his sympathy following the incident.
‘I’m sorry about tonight, broadway friends. Nobody should have to fear for their lives like this. Sending love your way,’ he wrote. He added that it was a ‘big scare’ but ‘nothing too bad’.
NYC Mayor and 2020 Democratic Presidential hopeful Bill De Blasio sought to reassure New Yorkers in the aftermath of the panic.
He tweeted: ‘Times Square is safe and secure, but the panic and fear people felt tonight was all too real. Nobody should have to live in constant fear of gun violence. NOBODY.’
Others who were caught up in the scare took to Twitter to share their experiences and lament the collective fear the nation is feeling in the wake of the back-to-back mass shootings last weekend.
Authorities have been on high alert following two mass shooting incidents in Ohio and Texas over the weekend.
A gunman who killed nine people in Dayton, Ohio, had expressed a desire to commit a mass shooting and showed an interest in violent ideology, investigators said Tuesday as the FBI announced it is opening an investigation.
Federal investigators are working to determine what ideologies influenced 24-year-old Connor Betts and why he chose the specific target of Dayton’s Oregon entertainment district for the shooting early Sunday.
On Saturday 22 people were killed and scores more were injured when a gunman opened fire at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas.
El Paso’s police chief, Greg Allen, said investigators believe the suspected gunman, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, posted an anti-immigrant screed that appeared online shortly before the attack.
Crusius is being held on capital murder charges, though federal prosecutors are also considering charging Crusius with hate crimes.