Shoppers at Coquitlam Centre mall had their Boxing Day trip cut short yesterday when someone released pepper spray into a crowded food court.
The incident happened around 4:30 p.m. when Martin Robson was having a bite to eat with his wife and three kids at the end of a day of shopping. Suddenly, about 15 metres away, he saw what looked like a fog billowing up from the seating near the KFC.
“People started running, yelling, “Get out of here!” he told The Tri-City News.
Robson estimates about 100 people made it to the door before him as the standing room only food court spilled out onto the street. When he looked back, Robson saw seniors, mothers pushing their children in strollers, even his wife next to him, couldn’t breathe. His nine-year-old daughter had the chemical in her eyes and was crying.
“It’s the kind of thing you see on the news in the States, people running out because of some fear of a disaster. It was mass panic. Old people coming out, gagging, spitting,” said Robson.
“It was just mass chaos.”
A spokesperson for Coquitlam RCMP, which attended the scene with the fire department, said just one person was hit with a small amount of pepper spray,
But by the time emergency services arrived the two males thought to have taken part in the incident had fled during the panic. Witnesses told police they heard a male challenge another male to spray him, according to RCMP Const. John Graham. So far, there is no known motive and neither of the two males in question has come forward to press charges.
“They were likely known to each other,” said Graham. “It could have been friends joking with each other.”
Deploying pepper spray against another person can be considered assault with a weapon and surveillance footage ends up being a key piece of evidence in cases like these. But when police returned to review the mall camera footage, they found poor camera angles missed the actions and identities of the two men in question.