Clay County

Situation thought to be active shooter creates chaos at Orange Park Mall; no gun found, deputies say

CLAY COUNTY. Fla. — Panic over what was thought to be an active shooter situation at the Orange Park Mall caused chaos on Sunday.

The Clay County Sheriff’s Office responded to the Orange Park Mall’s food court just before 5 p.m., after receiving numerous calls of an active shooter in the area. Thirty-eight units were deployed as protocol demands.

STORY: Suspect in Green Cove Springs hostage standoff identified by police

Upon arrival, police began to clear the Orange Park Mall of its 600 occupants and checked each business for an active shooter. They did not find an active shooter, and no injuries were reported.

Police surveyed video and found no indication of any shots fired.

On Sunday night, deputies said there was a physical fight that unfolded between several juveniles. However, Clay County Sheriff’s Office arrest reports released Monday indicate something else happened.

AUGUST STORY: Shots fired near Orange Park Mall, no injuries reported; arrest made

“That’s when we started receiving calls for the shots fired,” said Chief Baylor Alexander with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office.

Police believe any loud noises that might have been heard could have come from chairs being knocked over as people fled. There were around 100 people in the food court at the time.

STORY: JSO: One shot dead inside a car in Jacksonville Heights

Rhett Butler was among those who saw 100 people sprint from the Orange Park food court.

“We were doing our normal Christmas shopping … I see a bunch of people running by, so I walk back out, thinking it was probably a fight, and I see a bunch of people running, and I kind of walk closer, and I notice a lot more commotion … everybody coming this way … ”

Almost immediately, Butler feared the worst.

AUGUST STORY: ‘I will not give up’: Sheriff Cook on crime at Orange Park Mall

“There is definitely something going on. I called 911 on the way out the door.”

It took police an hour to clear the mall entirely.

“We cleared the entire mall to make sure that we didn’t have anybody injured or shot,” Baylor said.

STORY: NYC sets COVID-19 vaccine mandates for private-sector workers, kids

As for Butler, he said it’s the kind of thing you never want to experience firsthand.

“Everybody just started running and screaming. No (one) organized for anything,” Butler said.

During the evacuation, people left their items at the mall and are now allowed to come back and get those items. They must go through the food court entrance to be escorted by security.

TRENDING: CEO lays off 900 via Zoom call; says they will be getting an email from HR

For any questions, call Orange Park Mall Security at 904-269-2422.

Orange Park Mall management released a statement on Monday morning, encouraging mall patrons to report any concerns they have:

“At Orange Park Mall the safety of our guests, retailers and employees is always paramount and our first priority. We take a holistic approach to safety with our industry best practices and programs, which include our own security force 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on foot and in vehicles, plus Camera Surveillance and other modern security procedures, special operations plain clothes officers from time to time, crisis planning, and lockdown drills. We also have a strong relationship with local law enforcement including an on-site police presence. Guests are encouraged to contact security at 904-269-1662 with any concerns, questions or issues they may have. It’s important if you see something, to say something. We take these actions to promote a safe environment for everyone.”

STORY: Biden administration announces Beijing Olympics diplomatic boycott

Action News Jax has learned that at least 3 arrests in the aftermath of the chaos at the mall. The Clay County Sheriff’s Office released the following statement and said it was working on processing the arrest reports, which detail how the situation unfolded:

“The Orange Park Mall is a popular destination for holiday shoppers and families enjoying the season together. The CCSO recognizes the importance of the mall and works collaboratively with mall management. Our deputies responded there yesterday, prepared for a worst case scenario, and took every step necessary to ensure the safety of everyone at the mall. Fortunately, the report called in of shots fired turned out not to be true. Crowd behavior can be unpredictable, so people should always be aware of their surroundings when visiting any public venue that hosts crowds, whether they are shopping for the holidays or are attending a public event. Please call us if anything suspicious is observed or tension indicators are present. We wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season.”