The story behind Saturday's frenzy at Twelve Oaks Mall

Ian Thibodeau, and Candice Williams

Novi — Nick Orzel was about to leave Twelve Oaks Mall at around 5:10 p.m. Saturday when he heard people yelling about a gun.

The Livonia resident recorded a nine-second video of men, women and children screaming as they ran through the mall to the exits. Orzel, 21, then posted it to Twitter.

The video was retweeted 2,213 times. National media asked permission to use his footage.

“I didn’t hear anything besides people yelling ‘gun,’ ” Orzel said. “I learned (there) wasn’t a gun about an hour after it happened.”

When Police Chief David Molloy alerted the Twitter community Saturday that there was no shooter because three robbers had fled the scene before police arrived, his tweet received only 134 retweets.

There was never an active shooter, but in the heat of the moment and with social media picking up the misinformation about the robbery, a smash-and-grab at a mall jewelry store launched the dash for safety.

What was unfolding, said a Wayne State University lecturer on new media, was an incomplete record of what was happening and the “constant interaction” of social media.

“What we are lacking is the skill to immediately fact check,” said Karen McDevitt. “We tend to go with information as it’s shared. ... We tend to overreact to fear and any information of something that is fearful.”

Dan Jones, Twelve Oaks general manager, declined to comment on whether the mall would have been evacuated or locked down if there hadn’t been confusion surrounding a possible shooter.

“We do regular training exercises with police to handle a variety of topics so we feel as prepared as we can be for the unknown. While nothing is ever managed perfectly in an emergency situation, we feel our response was prompt and properly handled,” he said in an email.

Meanwhile, the men who caused the commotion after smashing a display case with a hammer to steal two high-end watches from the Tapper’s jewelry store escaped.

Police on Monday were still searching the three. Anyone with information on the robbery is asked to call Novi Police at (258) 348-7100 or the anonymous Crime Stoppers line at (800) SPEAKUP.

Sgt. Scott Baetens said police received the call of an active shooter at the mall at 5:19 p.m. Saturday, and officers were on the scene within two minutes. Novi and Wixom police responded in addition to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and Michigan State Police, Baetens said.

It was “very quickly” determined that no one had fired a gun in the mall, he said.

Either the shattering glass display case or the slamming glass door must have sounded like gunfire to some, he said.

Misinformation then spread like wildfire inside the mall and on social media, which led people to leave in droves and clogged access for police.

“It hampered us, but not to the degree that we couldn’t do our job,” Baetens said.

The robbery also set into motion a series of mall-activated events: Mall security and employees went into lockdown mode in which employees sheltered while officials responded.

After a lockdown, an orderly evacuation began. Those who fled were doing so on their own accord, Baetens said

Jones said officials would take what they learned Saturday and “incorporate it into future simulations in order to further strengthen our ability to handle crises in the future.”

Baetens said local law enforcement actively trains with mall security to handle active shooter situations. Police, he said, responded Saturday expecting to encounter a shooter. That there wasn’t one doesn’t diminish the need for citizens to report suspicious activity.

Despite that initial information, which proved wrong, he said he would ask that when people call in a report, they “be great witnesses.”

“Be observant, be detailed in what you observe and report it to us,” he said.

A note of caution, McDevitt says, when weighing social media posts: “We really need to understand the value of a source.”