The annual Global Citizen Festival in Central Park was transformed into a chaotic free-for-fall over the weekend, after a loud noise resembling gunfire sparked a panicked stampede in the crowd of tens of thousands.
Fifteen people suffered minor injuries in the commotion, which organizers now say was caused by someone "stepping on and popping a drink bottle." But widespread confusion and minimal communication in the moment led some in the crowd to believe an attack was underway. "Everyone thought there was a shooting or terrorist attack," one witness tweeted. "Not sure what happened but thousands of people running away from global citizen fest," said another.
#Repost: Today at Global Citizen Festival. Everyone thought there was a shooting or terrorist attack. It was terrifying. Lucky to be safe and it be a false alarm as a stage barrier fell that led to a stampede. Prayers with everybody in attendance. #SlideInWithUs pic.twitter.com/FdOm1KxYxI
— ticketdm (@ticketDM) September 30, 2018
Just called 911, running out of Central Park. Not sure what happened but thousands of people running away from global citizen fest.
— Zameena Mejia (@ZamTheWriter) September 29, 2018
Hi I just had the worsy panic attack of my life at Global Citizen Fest. I thought there was a shooting and for split second I thought of my life and how much I love everyone holy shit luckily there was no shooting but damn, I’m gonna remember this for the rest of my life.
— lunchables enthusiast (@myuneveneyes) September 29, 2018
Authorities—along with Coldplay's Chris Martin—quickly rushed the stage to explain the misunderstanding, at first blaming the noise on a collapsed police barrier. "Nobody is trying to hurt anybody, and you’re all safe, OK?" Martin reportedly told the crowd.
Within a few minutes, Cynthia Erivo took the stage and began singing "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and Janet Jackson taking the stage soon after. But some were not able to re-enter the Great Lawn following the panic.
"Unfortunately, while every effort was made to quickly re-open the gates, we regret some attendees were unable to re-enter the Park, and for that we apologize," Hugh Evans, the festival's CEO, said in a statement afterward. He also encouraged people who'd lost their personal property to visit the lost & found at the NYPD's Central Park Precinct—which reportedly resembled a "flea market" on Sunday.
— miranda (@MirandaRene17) October 1, 2018
Now in its seventh year, the festival aims to raise money to eradicate global poverty. Headliners this year included Janelle Monáe, Shawn Mendes, John Legend and Cardi B, who introduced her set with a video message from Michelle Obama. The musical performances were punctuated by speeches from leaders ranging from Governor Andrew Cuomo to Mark Ruffalo to Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy.
Republican Senator Jeff Flake also appeared on stage at one point, and urged the crowd to "join me in an elevator any time"—an apparent reference to the sexual assault survivors who confronted him after he announced that he planned to vote yes on Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation, but before he called for an FBI investigation into the nominee.
The strange, tumultuous event was ultimately closed out by The Weeknd, who performed a shortened set due to Central Park's curfew. The rapper later lamented the "mishap" on Twitter. "It was terrifying and they handled this terribly," responded one disappointed attendee.
But people were hurt, trampled over and mentally scarred. It was terrifying and they handled this terribly. We were told to run and get down by NYPD but then denied re entry after running for our lives so we weren’t trampled.
— Ashley Clemons (@ash_clemons18) September 30, 2018
“Mishap?” You mean how everyone was running cause we thought there was an active shooter (and the police told us to). Not to mention how the festival continued...and in your set you had gunshot effects. Extremely insensitive considering what had just happened, false alarm or not.
— lin zhang (@lzhang39) September 30, 2018
I waited the whole day to see you but left when that scary shit happened, so heartbroken 😢💔
— M. (@mdmar_xo) September 30, 2018