Minutes after gunfire at the Raptors rally, chaos ensued at the Eaton Centre. Here's why
Police said they found no evidence of gunfire, but accounts have emerged that the panic in the mall was real
Minutes after gunfire sent panicked fans at a Raptors rally scrambling to seek cover at the nearby Eaton Centre earlier this week, reports of a shooting inside the Toronto mall had shoppers frantically running for the exits.
Both sides were met with locked doors, triggering further commotion, as the mall's security measures kicked in and police officers rushed to investigate.
But while it's unclear what triggered stampedes inside the mall — right as people were scattering outside — accounts that have since emerged from those who were there indicate the panic was real.
'I didn't think I was going to live'
"I didn't think I was going to live," said a teary Tharsi Yoganathan, who was at the mall's food court after taking in Monday's Raptors' parade before the rally with her three young children, a friend and her friend's kids.
The noise sparked a frenzy as people ran to find the exits, she said. Some yelled "shooter, shooter," she recalled, while her children and others screamed.
The 38-year-old grabbed her kids and rushed to find a way out, losing a shoe in the process.
Toronto police said 911 calls about the situation came in around 4 p.m., shortly after the 3:45 p.m. shooting at the rally nearby that left four people injured.
Police not sure what caused the panic
"We responded instantly," Supt. Michael Barsky said of the mall reports. "There's no evidence to support there were gunshots inside the Eaton Centre."
Barsky isn't sure what sparked the panic.
I really thought I was going to die.- David Austerweil
At that point in the day, emergency responders had already dealt with two different stabbings just outside the north end of the mall, he said. One took place at 2:04 p.m., with a man allegedly stabbing four people, and another occurred a block away at 2:28 p.m.
David Austerweil experienced the chaos both inside and outside.
He had walked up to the rally at Nathan Phillips Square just before the outdoor shooting and said a flood of fans rushed towards him moments later. He and two friends ran to the mall but were met with locked doors.
They eventually found an unlocked door to the mall's basement, he said, and made their way to one of the main levels when they saw a different crowd sprinting towards them.
The group ran again, he said, eventually finding themselves in a section of the mall where heavily armed police officers — part of the force's public order unit, Barsky said — ordered everyone to the ground as they looked for a shooter.
'People becoming irrational'
Austerweil said he and his friends later moved into a Canadian Tire store adjoining the mall where they waited with others before being allowed onto the street.
"I really thought I was going to die," he said. "It was so crazy."
She was in the food court with her 85-year-old father when she said she also heard what sounded like gunfire. She said she became separated from her dad in the commotion, bolting up several flights of stairs before running into a wall of people running down.
"I thought I left my 85 year old father to die. He was hiding in the closet with the woman who did the cleaning," she said. "It was a nightmare."
"The danger you have in this environment is not knowing what's happening and becoming more irrational," he said, explaining that a "cascade reaction" takes place.
"People are reacting to people that are reacting to people that are reacting."