LOS ANGELES, Calif. (FOX 11) - On Sunday at 8:45 p.m., Los Angeles Airport Police got a call of a man dressed in black, wearing a mask and carrying a sword located outside baggage claim at Terminal 7.
Video shot by witness Sam Macon showed officers surrounding the man, guns drawn. It turned out it was just an actor wearing a Zorro costume with a plastic sword, but it was the first of several reports that sparked hysteria throughout the airport.
"Within 30 seconds, we go from this main cluster of people sort of backing away from the Zorro incident to a much larger mass of people in full-on panic mode talking about an active shooter," Macon said.
Police said about 5 minutes after detaining Zorro, officers got reports of an active shooter in Terminal 8, which is connected to 7.
Video showed hundreds of panicked people running from the airport while hundreds more evacuated onto the tarmac as word spread of a shooting in two more terminals.
"Things just seemed to get crazier and crazier when more and more people didn't have any good information," Macon said.
Police also believe social media helped spread the chaos.
"People were saying, 'there's an active shooter at LAX that must be here where I am,' not realizing this is a huge place. It could be anywhere," Ofc. Rob Pedregon, Los Angeles Airport Police, said.
Officers swept the airport twice and reviewed security footage, but never heard or found the source of a loud noise mistaken as gunfire.
"I had been so close to this action that there was no way that a gun had gone off anywhere that I could see," Macon said.
It took officers under an hour to determine it was a false alarm, but at that point, the airport was already a mess with 27 flights diverted and another 280 flights delayed.
"As far as the way the officers responded, it was picture perfect training kicked in," Pebregon said.
Aviation terrorism expert Richard Bloom with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University said even if airport police did everything right, there would have been no way to stop the panic after it started.
"When you are dealing with irrational, emotional and illogical behavior there are no predictable sequences of activity that you can ensure that panic that fear will not occur," Bloom said.
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