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Police suspect social media used to spread mall violence

MallFights12490jpg64c27
Police officers continue to patrol the area as people linger in the parking lots around Oak Court Mall after the mall was closed because of a disturbance Monday, Dec. 26, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn.
MallFights12490jpg64c27
Police officers continue to patrol the area as people linger in the parking lots around Oak Court Mall after the mall was closed because of a disturbance Monday, Dec. 26, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn.

Police officials in several cities said Tuesday that they suspect social media was used to organize some of the string of brawls and disturbances that broke out at more than a dozen shopping malls across the country a day earlier, marring one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Police were beefing up patrols and mall security guards were out in force after the melees involving mostly young people erupted.

In Aurora, Colo., police said a posting on social media announcing a fight at the Town Center of Aurora drew an unruly crowd that grew to about 500 people. Five suspects, all juveniles, were arrested in that fight, which brought 50 officers to the scene and led to the mall being shut down.

Sgt. Chris Amsler, of the Aurora Police Department, said some type of announcement was made on social media, though he couldn’t say what it specifically said.

“There was something going on on social media about a fight that was going to take place here, which is what drew all of these people who were up to no good to our mall,” Amsler said.

Manchester, Conn., police said several fights broke out around the same time at the Shoppes at Buckland Hills Mall in that city on Monday evening. Capt. Christopher Davis said police there believe it is “highly probable” that social media postings played a part in organizing the disturbances that ended with the arrests of seven people — including five teenagers — who were involved in the melees.

Meanwhile, in Beachwood, Ohio, police said about 500 young people who took part in a large-scale disturbance at the mall on Monday had been “loosely organized on social media.”

Police in the Cleveland suburb evacuated the mall after teens had been running through the shopping center amid incorrect reports that shots had been fired. The mall’s operators eventually reopened it to shoppers once the situation was calmed. One juvenile who struck a police officer was charged with disorderly conduct.

Other major mall disturbances — including some that led to shopping centers being evacuated — occurred in Monroeville; Tempe, Ariz.; Aurora, Ill.; Louisville; Fayetteville, N.C.; East Garden City, N.Y.; Memphis; Fort Worth; and elsewhere.

Images and videos of the brawls and chaotic scenes were posted on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms.

“There’s a definite connection with social media,” said Chris McGoey, who heads the Los Angeles-based McGoey Security Consulting firm. “This is not a coincidence that on this day you have all of these similar events happening across the country involving a certain age demographic. If you look at where many of these incidents occurred, they are in cold climates. Added to that, it happened the day after Christmas; most of these individuals were school-age children and they have nothing to do. And this is the YouTube generation, they record everything, and they want to stimulate things through their social media.”

Law enforcement officials have not uncovered any evidence that the incidents — which occurred at malls in at least 12 states within hours of each other — were nationally coordinated.

Officer Tamara Valle, a Fort Worth Police Department spokeswoman, said officers there were investigating to see whether an incident at Hulen Mall, in which 100 to 150 teenagers brawled at the food court, was part of “some kind of premeditated thing across the nation.” Like the incident in Beachwood, police were called to the scene after incorrect reports that shots had been fired.

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