[UPDATE: One arrest made, one cited for altercation]
First it was an active shooter situation inside a Baton Rouge Walmart, then a shooting that left one person injured near the customer service counter — but ultimately, authorities said, it was just an argument between two store patrons that involved weapons drawn but no shots fired.
With the country on edge after recent mass shootings, law enforcement officers feared the worst and swarmed the store amid the ensuing panic Tuesday, East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said. It turns out the whole scenario started when one man threatened another with a pair of scissors during an argument that escalated while the two were waiting in line, according to the latest account from authorities.
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Gautreaux initially said early Tuesday afternoon that a bystander had been wounded near the customer service counter of the Walmart on Burbank Drive. But the story changed several hours later when Gautreaux said investigators had determined initial reports of a shooting were likely false, despite many witness accounts from people who reported hearing gunshots as they fled the store.
"Preliminary investigation results gathered are that a shooting incident did not occur," he said late Tuesday afternoon. "However the investigation is ongoing. We will update with any further developments from this incident."
Gautreaux pointed to the recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio — the one in El Paso happened at a Walmart — and said both Baton Rouge law enforcement and the public reacted with heightened urgency in light of those events.
"The national climate regarding these incidents has the nation on edge, and citizens' anxiety levels are much higher than normal," the sheriff said in his statement. "We are in a position that we must respond according to our protocols and training to ensure that we are keeping our citizens safe."
Shooting at Walmart in Baton Rouge: Initial report that fight led to gunfire incorrect, sheriff says
One person was arrested and another was cited after an altercation at a Walmart in Baton Rouge late Tuesday morning that caused panic inside the store and prompted law enforcement to swarn the area after initial reports of a possible active shooter situation, which were later debunked.
The sheriff had provided a vastly different account of events when he spoke to reporters on the scene hours earlier. He said then that a man who was at the Walmart to buy his child a lunchbox Tuesday morning got caught in the middle of an altercation between two other patrons and was injured in the shooting that resulted.
Gautreaux said on the scene that the two patrons had pulled guns on each other and that one had fired his weapon, striking the bystander. Authorities said the victim was taken to a hospital in a private vehicle, and a spokesperson for Baton Rouge General Medical Center said the patient was being treated there.
A man who visited Walmart to buy his child a lunchbox Tuesday morning got caught in the middle of an altercation between two other patrons and…
But Gautreaux walked back that account later, saying that although two men did pull weapons in Walmart, no shots were fired. The person whom authorities and doctors said was wounded actually was never shot — but he was injured while fleeing the store and hospitalized as a result. The patient was released from the hospital later Tuesday afternoon, according to Baton Rouge General.
The sheriff's office said dispatchers received a 911 call reporting "two black males in the Walmart on Burbank shooting."
Audio of the call released Tuesday afternoon contains a woman's voice saying over: "They're shooting, ma'am. They're shooting, they're shooting, they're shooting."
The woman is unable to answer questions from dispatchers about where she is and what's happening. She's gasping for air and seems to be running out of the store while speaking with dispatchers. The caller finally states there were two black males shooting but she doesn't know where inside the store they're located.
Officials said in their revised account of incident that it began when two men started arguing while waiting in line at the customer service desk. One of them went outside the store and retrieved a pair of scissors, brandishing them in a stabbing motion, sheriff's office spokesman Col. Bryan White said Tuesday evening. The second man drew a gun in response. The man with the scissors then dropped his weapon and turned to run — but then came back to retrieve the scissors before fleeing. White said that's when someone yelled there was a gun, and "all hell broke loose."
Officials said "panicked customers were running from the front and rear entrances to the store, and told initial responding deputies that they could hear 'popping' sounds that they believed to be gunshots." White said investigators are still hearing from witnesses who believe shots were fired. He said it's unclear where those sounds came from during the chaos.
Deputies went inside the store and did a security sweep after arriving on scene. They found no shooting victims.
Ultimately the man who pulled the gun was detained and later found to be legally in possession of his firearm, which officials said was drawn in self-defense. He also had a concealed carry permit. The man who brandished the scissors fled the scene and remains at large, according to the sheriff's office.
Authorities are still investigating what started the argument, but they don't believe the two men knew each other before this.
Gautreaux said that, given the information authorities received from the 911 call and witnesses exiting the store, law enforcement "responded with what we feel is appropriate."
Several dozen law enforcement vehicles blocked off the area Tuesday afternoon, closing down both Burbank Drive and Bluebonnet Boulevard for hours. The store was evacuated immediately and remained closed for the rest of the afternoon. The response included police helicopters.
[UPDATE: One arrest made, one cited for altercation]
In the moments after the men drew their weapons near the customer service desk, Walmart employees were issued a "code red" signal, which means an active shooter situation, Walmart department manager Porcha Videau said at the scene. She had joined dozens of other employees as everyone ran from the store and regrouped at a gas station across the street while law enforcement gathered evidence.
One woman had been enjoying her day off when she saw news alerts that her coworkers were being evacuated because of a shooting, so she drove over to provide moral support and make sure they were all safe.
Videau said employees had undergone active shooter training Monday, the day after the attack this past weekend in El Paso that killed 22 and injured more than two dozen others.
"I had just got back from my lunch break when people started yelling 'code red' and I just started running. I went into panic mode. We all did — people with kids, babies, just running," she said. "Even with all the recent shootings, you think it will never happen at your Walmart. But it can happen anywhere."
Staff writer Grace Toohey contributed to this report.