Multiple law enforcement agencies responded Sunday night to a call of an “active shooter” at AMC Southlake 24 on National Movie Night. While officers on scene told The Clayton Crescent they found no signs that any firearms had been discharged, angry parents said they met up with upset teenagers at nearby businesses and that the kids told them someone had fired shots. The teens themselves gave different stories about what, where, and whether the alleged shots were fired.

People seek information about an alleged shooter at the AMC Southlake 24 during National Movie Night, Sunday, August 27, 2003. More than 100 teenagers were hanging around the parking lot when a report of an an alleged shooter sent moviegoers fleeing in panic. Police said they found no evidence of any shots fired. Similar incidents took place in McDonough and Douglasville. The $4 movie event has a history of similar incidents, which end up on social media. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

Police then shut down the theater for the rest of the night, to the dismay of patrons who showed up for the late show and who wanted to know how they could get their tickets refunded. Officers told them to contact AMC. (You can get a refund here.)

Morrow was not the only site where large numbers of unaccompanied minors gathered, then stampeded during the annual event. An adult couple who was turned away from the theater shortly after 10 p.m. said they had just come from McDonough, where they said a similar incident had taken place. And in Douglasville, two teens were arrested at a movie theater after ten of them got into a fight, Fox 5 reported.

The Clayton Crescent spoke with two young teenage boys who were wandering around one corner of the parking lot. They said two groups of people had pulled guns on each other, but that no shots were fired, and that “it was all over by the time the police got here.”

Clayton County Sheriff Levon Allen was on scene, and told The Clayton Crescent that the incident had happened “outside” the theater. He confirmed that no one had been shot. “All we know is that someone threatened to shoot,” he said.

A CCSO Deputy Harris also had been on scene at the time, according to Morrow Police Maj. Mark Woodall. One security guard also was on scene in his car when The Clayton Crescent pulled up. Clayton County Police Chief Kevin Roberts told The Clayton Crescent, “We can confirm a call of shots fired but no reported injuries or suspects.” Specifically, Roberts’ confirmation noted only the fact that a call had been made—not that the call was true.

Woodall had been on scene, covering the detail for another officer who had been seriously injured in a car accident Saturday night while responding to a different incident, when the call went out—and he said he had not heard anything that sounded like a gunshot.

According to Woodall, teenagers had been milling about the parking lot all afternoon.

“So I was here, riding around, and there’s 150 kids out here, from 3 o’clock on, probably” Woodall said. “And me and another deputy, we just decided to hang around. We were riding around on what’s called cruise lights, where you have the lights on steady. So we’re riding around, just to let everybody know the po-po’s here.”

Woodall said he was in the parking lot when a young teenage boy came up and asked for a ride home because his cellphone had died.

“So I said, ‘Where’s your mama? Where do you live?’ He said, ‘I live over on Flat Shoals.’ I said, ‘Off Riverdale Road?’ He said, ‘Yes sir.’ I said, ‘What school do you go to?’ ‘North Clayton Middle.'” Woodall said the 13-year-old told him his mother had sent him to the theater in an Uber. “So I called her on my phone, and she came and got him.”

Around 8:14 p.m., while he was talking with the boy’s mother, Woodall said, a call went out over the radio: “Tac 4, shots fired, shots fired, shots fired, Tac 4, I need units, start up any units that you can, shots fired at AMC.”

But “I didn’t hear anything. I’m a Coast Guard veteran, and I’m an air marshal veteran, and I know what gunshots sound like. I’m a police veteran. I eased over here, pandemonium. All the kids. I mean, they’re running. So I established command, incident command. Sheriff’s deputies, county police—county sheriff’s deputies, county police, Riverdale, Forest Park, Jonesboro, Lake City, all responded, Lovejoy—got here quick. I assembled everyone in the lobby, I gathered all cops around, and I said, ‘You, you , you, and you”—I established clearing teams to go slow and deliberate.

“Now we had everybody out of the theater, most everybody out of the theater,” Woodall said. “So we got everybody out of the theater. Then we had information somebody was upstairs with, I can’t remember, the shooter was upstairs. There’s an upstairs here, did you know that? Theaters. Ever since this thing’s been here. That was 25 years ago when I was a cop in Riverdale [and] I didn’t know that. Anyhow, somebody, some information came out that somebody was upstairs with a gun, yelling, ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday.’ Well, the manager’s office is upstairs, so now I’m worried about Brandon. So I went with the team that went upstairs. We took one up the stairwell, and one up the elevator, and got out and went right and left and cleared it, and we cleared some employees, and they called Brandon on the radio, and I established that Brandon was fine.”

Woodall then returned to the command post. “And everybody continued and cleared theaters, and I was looking for shell casings and the smell of burnt gunpowder, neither of which I found. And that’s it.”

Woodall said the teens gave inconsistent information about what had happened.

“Fifty percent of the kids I talked to said the shots were outside; fifty percent said they were inside, and I talked to ten of them,” he said.

“Ten minutes into this, I was outside, I was outside right at the middle, right outside the doors, ten minutes into this because I was greeting police agencies arriving. And I heard the distinct sound of a water bottle filled with air: ‘pop.’ And everybody ran. And that’s what it was. Or it could have been a balloon. But that’s ten minutes after the first ‘shots fired, shots fired’ from the deputy. The deputy’s young, and I expect he knows what shots sound like. And I’m not doubting him.

“But the manager was standing where the deputy was standing, and the deputy said the shots were inside, and the manager told me, ‘Major Woodall, I heard the shots outside.’ I said, ‘Brandon, I was outside. I was outside. I was outside, right there. I would hear gunshots from over here. I did not hear any gunshots.” He added, “My hearing sucks, I can’t technically pass a hearing test for the military or the federal government, but I can hear gunshots.”

Parents began posting about the incident on Facebook, urging others to go pick up their kids. However, AMC policy clearly states that any child under 17 must be accompanied by “a guardian who is 21 or older.”

The Clayton Crescent left a message for AMC corporate through its website, seeking comment on the security situation at AMC Southlake 24 by 4 p.m. Monday, August 28. We will update with any response.

AMC’s website notes, “For some theatres, adult supervision is required all day. Please check your favorite theatre’s landing page and view the Other Policies section for more details.” AMC Southlake 24’s page says that “Guests under 18 must be accompanied by an adult 21 or older for movies starting at 9 p.m. or later. Please be prepared to show your ID at the theatre.”

According to Woodall, the local theater had asked the corporate office to provide more security, but allegedly was told that it would have to show evidence of the need for it.

“You know my biggest decision about this tonight?” Woodall said. “I pulled up right here and I sat there, I looked at my truck, because I’ve got my machine gun in my truck. The hardest decision tonight was for me to decide whether—I’m an air marshal, I don’t need a long gun. I think when I go in to closed hostage-rescue type, I’m best served carrying a pistol. not. along gun….The extremely surgical-precision training that I had for over 20 years with the Air Marshals, I’ll just use a pistol.”

Woodall said that the local theater has been trying to get the corporate office to beef up security. “But they want justification to have extra police officers. We were compiling all of the Part Three crimes, the felony, the entering autos, and occasional fights and stuff. We were compiling all that to give them something to give to corporate.

“And I said, ‘Here’s your sign. I think you need four inside, and four outside.'”

He added, “I really didn’t think—I’m real disappointed. Because these kids were good. Most of these, 99.99% of these kids were good.”

The Clayton Crescent went to the scene to sort out the facts from rapidly-building social media rumors. We did that by speaking directly with law enforcement officials on the scene.

Rumors also spread quickly when large groups of people gather. The fact is, some people will deliberately make up stories about what happened for their own amusement. Others will repeat what they’ve heard, what they think might have happened, or may assume “facts not in evidence” (for example, mistaking a firecracker for a gunshot). Follow the directions of officers on the scene. Ask them for more information once you are in a safe place.

While the natural reaction of any parent or any person caught up in such an incident is to panic, you can take steps to improve your and your child’s safety:

  • Always make sure at least one adult accompanies your minor child (that’s anyone under 18) to events where big crowds gather.
  • Do not allow your child to meet up with friends that you don’t know, even during daylight hours.
  • Get to know the parents of your child’s friends.
  • Check your child’s social media accounts for any upcoming “challenges,” meetups, or similar coordinated activity that can lead to trouble.
  • Know where the exits are at any place where people gather.
  • Make a plan for communicating and for what to do if your phone runs out of power.
  • Make sure your child has enough money to get home.
  • Follow Uber’s and Lyft’s policies on unaccompanied minors. Consider whether to entrust your child to a stranger.
  • Stay in touch with your child’s school, which may be aware of pending social media coordinated activity.
  • Follow established local news reporters (TV, radio, print, and web) for factual information as the story develops.

We will update this story with more information as it becomes available.

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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