Fort Worth

Hulen Mall brawl among 15 others; police not sure of social media link

Memphis police officers block off the entrances to the Oak Court Mall on Monday after a disturbance. A brawl involving as many as 150 teens at Hulen Mall in southwest Fort Worth was among reports of fighting in at least 15 malls across the country on Monday, striking the appearance of a coordinated effort, according to Fort Worth police and local and national media reports.
Memphis police officers block off the entrances to the Oak Court Mall on Monday after a disturbance. A brawl involving as many as 150 teens at Hulen Mall in southwest Fort Worth was among reports of fighting in at least 15 malls across the country on Monday, striking the appearance of a coordinated effort, according to Fort Worth police and local and national media reports. The Commercial Appeal via AP

A day after brawls involving teenagers broke out at Hulen Mall in Fort Worth and more than a dozen other malls across the country, authorities theorized that social media, boredom and, in some places, unseasonably warm weather may all have played a role.

On Tuesday, there wasn’t strong proof of all the fights being related to one another, said Fort Worth police spokeswoman Tamara Valle, who was on duty when the Fort Worth fight was reported Monday evening.

“Every media outlet I have spoken to has asked me about that,” she said. “It seems like more than a coincidence, but I honestly don’t know.”

Police dispelled the reports of gunfire that drew them to Hulen Mall in southwest Fort Worth, but they found that fighting among 100 to 150 teens had erupted in the food court area.

There were no injuries and no arrests, but police gave citations to two juveniles for fighting.

Chaos struck at least 15 malls across the country on Monday as fights broke out and false reports of gunfire spread rapidly on social media.

Officials at several police departments said they suspected that some brawls — toward the end of one of the busiest shopping days of the year — were loosely organized on social media but did not yet have proof, The New York Times reported.

The disturbances — many caused by feuding teenagers, according to local authorities — disrupted post-Christmas shopping in cities in at least a dozen states.

Food court fighting

Hulen Mall security guards, who had received reports of gunfire, called for a lockdown before the fighting even started, instructing merchants to close their doors and “shelter in place,” Valle said.

Officers arrived around 6:15 p.m. to investigate gunshots reported at the mall’s main entrance but found neither suspects, witnesses nor a weapon.

As the officers checked inside, a police dispatcher alerted them to a brawl in the food court, where they found 20 to 30 juveniles fighting.

“More fights erupted. Some people were not wanting to stop fighting,” Valle said. A citywide call for available officers drew about 60 officers to the scene, include SWAT members, she said. “Once the other officers showed up, they were able to get [the fights] all broken up.”

Officers forced the youths to leave the mall property but required those who didn’t have their own transportation to call their parents or guardians to pick them up.

Several brief videos posted on Twitter showed some of the violence inside the mall.

“A whole bunch of boys started jumping boys,” said Bobby Warner, 17, who told WFAA News that he was caught up in the fights but escaped unharmed. “Everybody took off running, people come catch people, slamming them, stomping them.”

Derrick Nipp was another 17-year-old who ran from the turmoil.

“There were people picking up their children, running away, because it was ridiculous,” Nipp told the TV station. “There were people sprinting and fighting each other, running down the second story area. People were getting put up against the rail, almost thrown over, things like that. It was crazy.”

In one officer’s report, Valle said, “one of the juveniles told him that [the fighting] was directed over social media.”

Valle has been looking into potential links to the annual Dec. 26 holiday known as Boxing Day, which is observed in Canada, the United Kingdom and other countries. It’s traditionally the day employers would give their workers Christmas gifts — “boxes.” Nowadays, it’s more about shopping for post-Christmas bargains and returning gifts.

“However, kids may be taking it literally and turning it into ‘boxing day.’ It’s crazy,” Valle said, emphasizing that it’s just a theory.

Ridgmar Mall, 1888 Green Oaks Road, was among the unaffected malls keeping a wary eye on the situation, but a spokeswoman for its parent company declined to say Tuesday whether any changes to security would be made.

“We have a very close relationship with the Fort Worth Police Department,” said Marianne Fasano, spokeswoman for Ridgmar and GK Development Inc., an Illinois-based commercial real estate firm that owns Ridgmar and six other malls, including one other in Texas, the Lufkin Mall. “We are aware — as is the police department — should any action be required.”

Sasano said she can’t recall the mall, which she said has more than 100 stores, ever experiencing a major brawl. “Ridgmar is a very family-oriented mall,” she said. “We work very hard to keep it that way.”

A spokesman for Hulen Mall did not return phone messages for comment.

Gunshot reports

Nationally, authorities said they had no evidence of a firm link between the many outbreaks, the Times reported.

For some officers, the chaos took on the characteristics of so-called flash mobs, gatherings loosely organized on social media. Unseasonably warm weather in some places may have played a role, too, the police speculated.

At the Mills at Jersey Gardens in Elizabeth, N.J., chaos broke out when the sound of a chair being slammed after a fight prompted a person to shout “gun,” according to a Twitter post by Mayor J. Christian Bollwage, the newspaper said.

The Cross Creek Mall in Fayetteville, N.C., closed after a group of teenagers got into fights in the food court around 4:45 p.m, police said in a statement. Police received several reports of gunfire but could confirm them, the Times reported.

The Hamilton Place Mall in Chattanooga, Tenn., said on Twitter that that 20 fireworks were set off there around the time of the Fayetteville fights.

Fights broke out at two Memphis malls, according to local reports, the Times said.

“Somebody yelled ‘Gun!’ and youths stampeded through the mall,” Deputy Chief Terry Landrum of the Memphis Police Department told the paper about the episode at the Wolfchase Galleria, noting the similarity to a melee at Oak Court.

Landrum, like officials elsewhere, said he didn’t know whether there were any links between the violent episodes across the country, the Times said.

Juveniles arrested

As in Fayetteville, the chaos at Town Center at Aurora began with a food court fight at 4:45 p.m., the police said in a statement, according to the Times. Several other fights broke out with the crowd growing to about 500 people, they said. No serious injuries were reported, and five juveniles were arrested.

The police in Tempe, Ariz., dispelled claims of gunfire after a similar outbreak at the Arizona Mills mall.

And as in many cities, the police in Indianapolis arrested several juveniles, after fights at the Castleton Square Mall, the Times reported.

Similar episodes resulted in panic and, in some cases, evacuations or closings at malls in several other states, according to local reports and local authorities.

They include the Shoppes at Buckland Hills and Westfarms in Connecticut; Roosevelt Field in New York; Beachwood Place in Ohio; and Monroeville Mall in Pennsylvania.

The police in Beachwood, Ohio, said on Twitter that the disturbance there appeared to “have been organized on social media.”

This report includes material from The New York Times.