Witnesses recall panicked flight after rumored shooting at Canalside

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Hundreds of people took off running during the fireworks at Canalside on the 4th of July after some people heard what they believed were gun shots.

Buffalo Police called the incident an unconfirmed report of a shot or shots fired. During their investigation into that report, they found no shell casings.

Whatever happened, it sent panic rippling through parts of the crowd, as people took off, thinking they had to get to safety.

“We heard ‘pop! pop! pop!’ and people started running and screaming and charging towards the exit, saying that somebody just got shot,’ ‘people are getting shot,’ ‘people are getting hurt’,” said one man in that crowd, Stephen Stiegler, remembering seeing people jump over fences and throw chairs out of their paths to get away from the scene.

“When it first started happening, because of everything with Orlando and because of the stuff world wide, I thought it was a terrorist attack,” he added.

Police say they found no evidence of a shooting there.

An officer on the scene during the Independence Day celebrations told News 4 the panic was actually prompted by the echo of fireworks off buildings in the area.

But, Stiegler says he doesn’t believe the police – He knows what he heard. “I’m from a rough neighborhood, I know what a gunshot sounds like.”

“The echoes from the fireworks were really deceptive,” countered another witness, Brian Rooney, a Portland, Oregon resident who is in town for the holiday visiting his family here.

Rooney was watching the Canalside fireworks from a nearby patio on Main Street when he saw part of the crowd taking off in a hurry. “I definitely heard one person say, ‘keep moving, don’t stop,’ and we did hear one person say they thought – thought, I have to stress – that there was a shooting,” he said.

But Rooney says he believes there was a misunderstanding and a misjudgment by the crowd, which turned into a game of telephone gone wrong.

“One person says they saw a mouse, and then at the other end of the crowds someone says they swear they saw a tyrannosaurus rex,” Rooney explained.

Rooney and his family did leave the fireworks with the exiting crowd. He says they didn’t know what was happening at the time and thought it was better to be safe than sorry. But, he says he wouldn’t hesitate to go back to Canalside and next year’s fireworks. “Honestly, I’m more upset that I missed the finale,” he said.

Stiegler, on the other hand, says he won’t go to any big event any time soon. “I mean, I’m scared, to be completely honest,” he said.

The Independence Day celebration at Canalside included an large security presence. Besides the large numbers of Buffalo Police, there were also private security guards, State Police, and Buffalo firefighters on hand.

Buffalo Police say there were a few small fights around 11 p.m., including one that involved four or five women. They say all of the so-called skirmishes were quickly dispersed.

No one was arrested.

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