PORT RICHEY, Fla. - Mall-goers were sent into a panic when a man began smashing glass display cases at a jewelry store. The loud crashes sounded to many like gunshots.
Just before 1 o’clock Thursday, shoppers inside the Gulf View Square Mall thought they were involved in the nation’s next mass tragedy. A masked man used a sledgehammer to break glass display cases and steal pricey items from the Zales jewelry store.
"People thought it was gunshots and they started yelling 'shooting' and people started running and it went into mass chaos," said a mall employee who asked not to be identified. "I ran up to him yelling 'stop stop' and I grabbed a sign in front of Zales and I threw the sign at him and at that point he dropped a hammer and a backpack and started running out of the door."
The incident is reminiscent of a similar smash-and-grab in 2014 inside Tampa’s International Mall, when folks mistook glass breaking for gunshots.
"Even in cases where you may be comfortable in certain places, just given everything going on in the world right now, staying vigilant is always a good idea," said Amanda Hunter with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
Pasco County deputies tracked down the alleged thief. Charges against him are pending.