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Chaos at July Fourth events as fireworks are mistaken for gunshots

Aerial footage shows large crowds running along Benjamin Franklin Parkway after two officers were shot in Philadelphia on July 4. (Video: Reuters)
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Scenes of chaos unfolded at Fourth of July celebrations in cities nationwide, as the booming sounds of fireworks were apparently mistaken for gunshots, sending scores of revelers fleeing for cover.

Crowds panicked and ran from loud noises in Orlando, Harrisburg, Pa., and Washington, suggesting a nation on edge following a recent spate of high-profile mass shootings, including one Monday morning in Highland Park, Ill., that killed six people.

“It is devastating that a celebration of America was ripped apart by our uniquely American plague,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said Monday. “While we celebrate the Fourth of July just once a year, mass shootings have become our weekly — yes weekly — American tradition.”

The bloodshed in the Chicago suburb of about 30,000 shattered the Fourth of July festivities. The aftermath of Highland Park’s parade was not candy wrappers and loose streamers, but pooled blood and abandoned strollers after residents fled the scene, taking shelter for hours as a manhunt unfolded.

Multiple people were killed and injured in a shooting at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Ill. on July 4. (Video: The Washington Post)

In other cities, Americans were on high alert in public spaces, sensitive to loud noises and quick to disperse.

At a fireworks show in downtown Orlando, people fled as loud pops echoed throughout the area, and some spectators suffered minor injuries during the commotion, police said. Some people jumped into a nearby lake, an eyewitness told a local news channel. Authorities said that there was no shooting and that the confusion had probably been caused by the sound of fireworks.

As gunfire explodes in Chicago suburb, ‘nowhere is safe’

In Harrisburg, the sound of firecrackers being thrown on the ground was probably the cause of panic among hundreds of people right before the main fireworks show, police told the local ABC News affiliate. Authorities likewise said there was no shooting. “The fact that you have to be ready for a mass shooting at any moment is proof of a country rotten to its core,” wrote a Twitter user who said he was there.

In D.C., two loud noises near 11th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW prompted people nearby to flee toward the National Mall. Authorities on the scene confirmed the sounds were fireworks and said the noises probably sparked the alarm.

In Philadelphia, the sound of actual gunfire sent a crowd fleeing an event near the city center. Videos circulating on social media showed some attempting to scale safety barriers as a fireworks display went off in the background.

Two police officers were shot but have been released after being treated at a hospital, according to Philadelphia’s police commissioner, Danielle Outlaw. She said that law enforcement was pursuing leads but that no arrests had been made.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (D) expressed frustration with U.S. gun laws after the shooting of two police officers near a Fourth of July concert. (Video: Reuters)

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, voicing exasperation with U.S. gun control laws, told reporters he looked forward to the day he leaves his role because he was always worried about a possible shooting at big events.

“I’m concerned every single day...I’m waiting for something bad to happen all the time, so I’ll be happy when I’m not mayor,” Kenney said late Monday.

“We have to come to grips with what this country is about right now,” he said. “We had a beautiful day out there today except for some nitwit shooting … who has a gun and probably shouldn’t have had it.”

Caroline Pineda contributed to this report.