By Mark Pratt
BURLINGTON, Mass. — A report of a man with a rifle inside a Nordstrom department store triggered a massive police response and the evacuation of a mall near Boston on Tuesday, but the man turned out to be carrying only an umbrella.
The Burlington Mall was evacuated and closed for more than two hours as a police SWAT team wearing body armor and carrying shields searched for an armed man.
Police had received five calls about a short white man with a gray shirt and a backpack who walked in a bathroom carrying what appeared to be a rifle, Burlington Police Chief Michael Kent said at a news conference. Around 40 local, state and federal officers went to the mall after police received the first call just after 10 a.m., he said.
It turned out the man was an employee of the Lahey Clinic, a nearby hospital, who had stopped at the mall before work and was carrying an umbrella. State police and the clinic said the man called police as soon as he realized he fit the description of the person being sought.
Police questioned him and determined he was not a threat. Detectives are certain that the supposed rifle was actually an umbrella in a "sling-like case," Kent said.
In a statement, the clinic said the employee "is pleased he took appropriate action and contacted the police, however, he feels terrible about the situation." The hospital would not identify the man and said he asked that the media respect his privacy.
"He was quite cooperative," Kent said. "He did nothing wrong and we appreciate that he called us."
The mall, an upscale shopping center about 15 miles northwest of Boston with more than 185 stores, was featured in the 2009 Kevin James comedy "Paul Blart: Mall Cop." It reopened shortly after 12:30 p.m.
Burlington Mall workers said they feared a mass shooting when police told them to leave.
"Cops just came in and told us to evacuate the mall. There's a guy with a gun," said Jose Abdul, 26, manager of a Verizon store in the mall. "I couldn't believe it. I just legged it out of there."
Dotti Gerrior, a Victoria's Secret employee, said she and about 17 other workers were trapped inside the store for about two hours after mall security told them the mall was locked down.
The employees pulled down the store's security gate, then waited in a storage area in the back of the store. They spent the time calling friends and family to let them know they were OK, Gerrior said.
"Everyone was nervous," Gerrior said. "I really believed it, and I don't fall for anything so easily. My heart was pounding so hard."
Kent defended authorities' response.
"With a report like this, you have to err on the side of caution, which we did," he said.
The initial reports also sparked a buzz on social media sites _ even on the Burlington Mall's Facebook page _ from concerned shoppers and relatives of mall workers. "Burlington Mall" also started trending worldwide on Twitter.
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