Teen whose words caused panic in Ballston Quarter movie theater won’t be charged

Law enforcement officials respond to reports of a shooting at Ballston Quarter mall in Arlington, Va., Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. Authorities said they have found no evidence that a shooting occurred at a movie theater that is part of the mall. Reports of a shooting had prompted panic and a large police presence Saturday night. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

When people in a crowded Ballston Quarter movie theater last month thought there was an active shooter, they panicked. It turned out to be a false report, and Arlington’s top prosecutor is explaining why no charges will be filed.

Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos didn’t end up taking this case, saying that there was no crime. But it didn’t feel like that to those inside the theater on Sept. 14.

“It was just a miscommunication. Someone heard the word ‘shooter.’ Someone saw kids get up and leave, and it became like a series of folks saying one to the other, ‘There’s a shooter,'” Stamos said.

But there wasn’t.

Arlington police said in part in a statement Wednesday:

Detectives conducted a thorough investigation, which included the review of surveillance images, witness interviews and the identification of the involved parties. The evidence determined that during the playing of the movie ‘IT Chapter Two,’ a juvenile within a group shouted a video game reference to the effect of, ‘Pennywise has sharpshooter activated.’

After reviewing their cellphones and talking with multiple witnesses, detectives cleared the scene and lifted the brief shelter in place on the movie theater.

Though the incident speaks to the impact words in a public space can have, especially in a climate of heightened awareness toward mass shootings, Stamos said, there was no evidence any of the teens intended to cause alarm or planned the event.

“As a consequence, it wasn’t disorderly conduct, according to the Virginia code. It wasn’t unlawful entry, according to the Virginia code. There was no other charge that could be brought to bear. It was all quite unfortunate that it happened, but there wasn’t a crime,” Stamos said.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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