COLUMBUS, Ohio May 15 2019 A 17-year-old kiosk worker at Polaris Fashion Place may face a charge for inducing panic, after police and witnesses say the teen poured liquid nitrogen into a soda bottle and closed it, causing the bottle to explode.
The resulting loud bang frightened hundreds of mall patrons who thought they heard a gunshot, and forced at least a partial lockdown and evacuation of the popular shopping destination. Dozens of mall customers called 911 reporting an active shooter as they fled the mall; some witnesses said they were locked in dressing rooms, bathrooms and closets for 30 minutes while Columbus Police sorted out the situation.
Police reports on Monday showed that one person was transported to St. Ann’s Hospital for evaluation of a heart condition; a second mall patron injured their arm as they fell while running. The 17-year-old was also treated for cuts to his face and temporary hearing loss.
A key verified witness who wished to remain anonymous on Monday relayed the following explanation of events; the witness was near the Nitro Puff kiosk, which sells frozen treats using liquid nitrogen and says an employee at the nearby Doc Popcorn kiosk walked over to the Nitro Puff kiosk with a soda bottle and put liquid nitrogen in it, then closed the lid on the bottle and shook it. The witness began sprinting away; a short time later, the witness heard the explosion.
Panicked 911 calls followed; about two dozen people went to Delaware County, and Columbus Police may have received hundreds more, according to spokesperson Sgt. Chantay Boxill. Police continue to investigate.
An off-duty police sergeant happened to be near the initial explosion and diffused the situation before it got further out-of-hand.
“It was chaotic, we had at least 12 cars that showed up,” Sgt. Boxill said on Monday.
She said since the situation didn’t end up being an actual shooting, the mass response will serve as a good training tool for future events.
“Polaris Mall has plenty of security video, and we can go back and look over it to say, ‘okay, you came in this way, and we came in that way,'” Boxill said.
Officials with Nitro Puff and Doc Popcorn didn’t respond to requests for comment Monday. Polaris Fashion Place declined to comment Sunday, noting no actual emergency occurred.
A spokesperson for the mall’s security contractor, Allied Universal, supplied the following statement:
We are saddened by the incident that occurred at Polaris Fashion Place in Columbus, Ohio that led to the mall being evacuated on Sunday, May 12. Currently, [redacted]’s actions are under criminal investigation by detectives from the Columbus Division of Police. During the incident, Allied Universal security personnel helped tenants and customers through the evacuation process and made sure the mall was secure. All Allied Universal Security Professionals complete active shooter training to help ensure that we uphold top security standards for all our clients.