Hundreds of people stampeded out of Aventura Mall last Saturday night when reports of a gunman spread exponentially from theater 20 to the rest of the mall and eventually the dark depths of the conspiracy-theorizing internet. Eighty-seven minutes after the panicked exodus, Aventura Mall tweeted: "Confusion during movie at Aventura Mall tonight. Police say no gun, no shooting."
Most people were relieved the chaotic confusion was not as sinister as they first thought, but others remained skeptical. After all, the mall security officers and movie theater operators were suspiciously tight-lipped, multiple witnesses claim to have seen someone with a gun (some even claim they heard shots), and then there was that damning photo of the shattered glass door.
But we got the police report -- and it turns out there was no gun, there was no shooting, and everything else has a perfectly reasonable explanation -- everything except why someone shouted "Gun!" in a crowded movie theater in the first place.
At 8:21 p.m., Aventura Police Officer Hans Maestre was standing at his post on the fifth-level bridge overlooking the mallscape when he saw about 300 people flee the Johnny Rockets and movie theater lobby toward the parking garage. "There's a guy shooting in the theater!" the officer remembers patrons screaming as they darted for the exit. Once the herd of terrified patrons passed, the officer met with the movie theater's manager and security officer "who again confirmed that there were reports of a man with a gun in Theater #20," the report states.
The officer approached the alleged gunman near the top of the theater and found two men pinning another man against a seat. "He's my son... and he's having an episode," one of the men yelled. "There's no gun; my son just had an episode. Please, there's no gun."
The 49-year-old man yelling was William Mejia, and his son, 18-year-old Marko Mejia-Castrillon, was in fact suffering from a dissociative episode and didn't have a gun or any other weapon on him. "Mr. Marko Mejia-Castrillon suffers from a pre-existing condition... and currently taking several [medications]," the report states. "Somehow [Mejia-Castrillon] was triggered into a violent episode which made him attack his own father by head-butting him and punching other patrons sitting nearby."
The teen was then escorted through a back hallway to the officer's vehicle. Once traffic in the parking garage cleared, the officer transported him to the Mount Sinai emergency room and completed a Baker Act. "Mr. Mejia-Castrillon's actions endangered him and approximately 300 or more patrons after the incident trickled into a full panic," the report states.
William's wife and Marko's stepmother, Vivi Mejia, received the call to bring the proper paperwork to prove William was indeed Marko's father. "Marko was only here for vacation," she tells New Times. His father is currently with him in Colombia (where Mejia is originally from) to seek treatment.
"The boy lose his mind; he start calling his father with another name [sic]" Mejia explains to New Times. "He hit him, and somebody else come took my husband trying to help the boy; people didn't know it was his father. [Then] all the people start running saying the boy has a gun. It was only lies."
Mejia cannot remember what movie they were watching that night, but she knows it was a comedy. Her husband later told her that it was a scene in the film when police were shaking their hands violently for a long time and that is what sparked the teen's violent episode. "He is under medication since four years ago," Mejia says. "He has some mental issues, and that was all in that moment that the boy lose his mind for any reason [sic]." The teen was hospitalized overnight Saturday and released the following day. Mejia's husband is not upset with how the incident was handled, Mejia says. "He knows these things happen; he understands the situation."
In the immediate aftermath, patrons were desperate for an explanation. Other than the fewer-than-140-character statement, Aventura Mall and the movie theater were vague and slow to dispel information, which made people suspicious.
My daughter had witness everything while hiding under a table in JR, there is a lot more that they are not disclosing @jess_swansonn
— Sil (@astromarina) January 20, 2014
Aventura Mall is lying, they told someone that someone yelled gun and that's it, but there's pictures, wow so full of shit
— råçhel☾ (@twerkDMATB) January 19, 2014
If you're at Aventura mall LEAVE. Gun man near H&M and apparently shots were fired.
— jeanette t. (@VHTru_) January 19, 2014
Without an actual smoking gun, people felt that the Twitter photo of the shattered glass door proved a gun was fired. But according to the police report, "damage to the glass doors was reported from the large crowd that crashed against the doors exiting during the incident."
Shooting at AVENTURA mall tonight! My daughter and I were there! Wtf!?? pic.twitter.com/bAVM3R1OoD
— sara bassan (@sarapty) January 19, 2014
The heightened media attention on mass shootings have made people uneasy, especially in movie theaters. Five days before the Aventura Mall incident, a man was shot at a movie theater in Tampa for texting. And in July 2012, 12 people were murdered in a movie theater in Colorado.
Aventura Mall is the third-largest mall in the country.
Keep New Times Broward-Palm Beach Free... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.