BURLINGTON -- Police responded in force today to a report of a man with a rifle at a mall, evacuating shoppers and calling in a SWAT team as worried workers locked themselves into stores. But it turned out that the man was only carrying an umbrella.
Police said the umbrella, which had a samurai sword-style handle, did look like a rifle, and they didn't fault those at the Burlington Mall who had reported the man.
“It was interpreted to be a gun by five different people,” said Burlington Police Chief Michael Kent. “We are always telling people to be vigilant. This is what we want.”
“I’d do it all over again if this happened tomorrow,” said Kent, who said about 40 officers responded to the scene from his department, surrounding departments, the State Police, and federal agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Burlington Police Officer Jim Tigges said that at about 9:55 a.m. Burlington police received a call from mall security reporting that two employees had seen a man with a backpack and a short rifle walk into the building and go into the bathroom.
Police raced to the mall, blocking off the parking lot as four helicopters hovered in the sky. The North East Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council SWAT team, composed of officers from area communities, was summoned.
Tigges said that once police were inside the building, they were alerted that there was surveillance video of the suspect leaving the Sears store at the mall. Police showed the video to two people who had spotted the man at the Nordstrom store. They confirmed it was the same person, and police were able to determine the object the man was carrying was an umbrella and not a rifle.
State Police also said that a man had called them to report that he was the person seen in the mall. Troopers and officers went to the area of the nearby Lahey Clinic hospital, where the man worked, and interviewed him, determining he was not a threat.
"The situation is cleared. There was no threat," State Police said in a statement. "The male does not have a weapon. ... Witnesses and surveillance footage confirm that this is the person who was seen in the mall."
State Police spokesman David Procopio said the umbrella did look like a rifle when it was protruding from the man's backpack.
He praised those who had reported the man for "being perceptive and vigilant and we are grateful for their call."
Procopio called it a "case of mistaken impression ... one that was easy to make because the umbrella really looked like a weapon."
Chief Kent praised the man, whom he would not identify, saying he had helped to bring the crisis to a quicker end by contacting police. "We appreciate that he put an end to it a lot sooner," he said. The man still has his umbrella.
The Lahey Clinic issued a statement saying that the man learned of the commotion at the mall when he arrived at work. He immediately called police. The man was pleased he had taken "the appropriate action" but "feels terrible about the situation," the hospital said.
Sharon Sliney and Jody Joyce, two workers at Sears, said they were taking their break at a Dunkin’ Donuts shop, when they saw that the wing for the Nordstrom store had been closed off. Ten minutes later, they said, they saw a phalanx of SWAT team members bearing shields and wearing body armor, marching through the mall towards Nordstrom.
“You don’t see something like that every day in the mall,” said Joyce, who was sitting in a car in the parking lot, where some employees waited as police checked out the building.
“We saw stores closing and people running so we didn’t know what was going on,” Jannicke Welde, an employee of Mac, a cosmetics store, said. “We went and sat in the back of the store until the security guard told us we could leave."
Rachel Montagna, an employee at Wet Seal, said she and coworkers stayed in the back of the store throughout the tense moments. "We were really scared until I spoke to my boss on the phone, and she was watching the news, and she said that the rifle was actually an umbrella,'' Montagna said. "I was really glad when it was over. It was certainly a major relief."
The Burlington Mall was used as the setting for the Kevin James comedy movie "Paul Blart: Mall Cop."
Essdras M. Suarez/Globe Staff
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