Students React to Global Citizen Festival Shooting Scare

Alexis Gaskin, Staff Writer

Two St. John’s students were among tens of thousands of people who experienced fearful, panicked moments during the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park Sept. 29. The sound of apparent gunshots caused a scene that the students described as “a swarm” of people frantically running to exit the park.

The cause turned out to not come from gunshots, the NYPD said, instead citing a fallen police barrier. The New York Times reported the sound came from an attendee stepping on a popping bottle.

Regardless of the trigger, the result was a scene of mass hysteria, according to sophomores Courtney Monahan and Charlotte Sather. The two St. John’s students attended the festival together and were excited to see their favorite performers and to be part of a large global event.

“I was very excited to see Shawn Mendes and Cardi B, but also to be a part of this bigger well-known event that was supposed to [be for] the betterment of humanity,” Monahan said.

Sitting near the back of Central Park, Sather recounted how she and Monahan saw a couple of people running toward them. Then the entire crowd began rushing toward them.

“We were in the back middle,” Sather said. “So I assumed it was the front middle where something happened because everyone in the middle just started running.

Unsure of what actually occurred, Sather and Monahan confirmed that they didn’t hear any noises or gunshots but assumed that the volume of people running was the result of a mass shooting.

The NYPD moved to quickly dispel the notion of gunshots, sending out word during the concert that the noise in question was from a police barrier that fell over. The barrier, which was meant to keep the crowd in order, emulated the sound of a gunshot. CBS New York reported that people yelled about a gun and told much of the crowd to get out.

“Seeing thousands and thousands of people running at you, you know it’s not for fun. You know some s— happened,” Sather said. “So, my first thought was that it was a mass shooting.”

Chris Martin, lead singer for rock band Coldplay, took the stage with NYPD Assistant Chief Kathleen O’Reilly to reassure fans that there was no emergency.

“Nobody is trying to hurt anybody,” Martin said to the crowd. “You’re all safe. I just want to tell you that.”

O’Reilly also told the crowd that the police were assessing the situation.

During the frenzy people abandoned their personal items to flee the scene, not knowing that it was only a false alarm, the two students said. One person jumped up and followed the crowd, leaving behind everything he brought with him.

“There was stuff everywhere. That’s how I knew something bad had happened,” Monahan said. “I saw four people just sprinting down the middle aisle, and I see a guy who just hopped off his blanket, not caring about his stuff and just ran.”

Both students recounted the shock they felt before they started to run.

“I would have just stood there if Charlotte wasn’t there to pull me back,” Monahan said. “I was in shock. I never experienced anything like that before.”

Sather didn’t think twice. “My first thought was just to run.”

According to The New York Times, the panic arose after a loud noise frightened the crowd of attendees and caused the crowds to flee. Those who were there, like Sather and Monahan, thought they were undergoing a mass shooting and followed the crowd.

Confusion and fear were common between both friends. They recounted how they were happy to not have lost each other, referencing to many large groups losing people in the crowd.

“You could see people grabbing onto each other’s hands like they didn’t want to lose their friends or each other,” Monahan said.

“It was really scary because we saw a lot of people yelling each other’s names, I just held Courtney’s hand tighter as we ran,” Sather said. “That was like the only words I could remember, it was like white noise. Just really freaky.”

As they left the park and tried their best to calm down, the dread was still prevalent.

“As we were coming out, there were uniformed officers on bikes who were saying, ‘Oh I heard something that sounded like a gun,’” Monahan recalled. “There were other police officers rushing in as the crowds were rushing out.”

“We kept walking down the street and the further we got the quieter everything was, and it just felt so surreal,” Sather said.“I just wanted to leave the city. I couldn’t stay there any longer.”

After discovering what actually happened, Monahan and Sather were angry that the news cycle described the event as a “brief panic,” according to sites such as New York’s, stating the social climate around gun violence.

The scare in Central Park occurred at a time when sensitivities over mass shootings are at an all-time high; just over a year ago 58 people were killed and over 800 others were injured by a lone gunman at a Las Vegas concert. It’s the deadliest mass shooting in history.

Sather said that not feeling safe shouldn’t be on a person’s mind when they’re in a public setting like a concert.

“It just makes me angry,” she said. “There’s something wrong with the country when you hear a noise in a crowded festival and the first thought is, ‘Oh, I’m going to die, I’m going to get shot.’”

Monahan reiterated her friend’s words.

“It’s just a shame that that’s how society reacts. Even if it was a bottle popping, or something collapsing, you go directly to a gunshot,” Monahan said. “Like they’re just simple little noises, but we’re scared and at this point, we’re trained to think the worse.”