law enforcement

Toy Gun Sparks Scare at NJ Walmart After Cryptic Message Spread

A woman at the Walmart in Union Township saw a man wearing a mask while carrying a gun, and called police just before 11 a.m.

What to Know

  • A New Jersey Walmart was evacuated Thursday after a shopper saw a man with a gun and recalled hearing about a foreboding social media post
  • A woman at the Walmart in Union Township saw a man wearing a mask while carrying a gun, and called police just before 11 a.m.
  • The store was evacuated, but there was never any threat as officials believe it was a shoplifter, who was later arrested

A New Jersey Walmart was evacuated Thursday after a shopper saw a man with a gun and recalled hearing about a foreboding social media post being sent around regarding mass shootings in the superstores.

A woman at the Walmart in Union Township saw a man wearing a mask while carrying a gun, and called police just before 11 a.m., according to Union County officials. She called the cops because of a social media post she saw which mentioned possible violence at Walmarts this weekend.

The store was evacuated shortly after, with customers running into the parking lot and the store issuing a “code brown” to employees, which meant an active shooter. However, at no point was there any active shooter scenario. The pistol that the shopper thought she saw was actually a large black airsoft gun that police believe was removed from its packaging and was being shoplifted along with a mask. The fake weapon was later discarded in another location inside the store.

Union County Police later arrested Joshua Phillips, of Newark, charging him with creating a false public alarm, possession of a weapon and shoplifting. The 20-year-old Phillips turned himself in to police Thursday evening after becoming aware of the significant media coverage of the incident, police said.

The store remained closed for several hours, before reopening just before 4 p.m. In a statement, Walmart said they were aware of the incident and were working with law enforcement.

Many other customers were on edge after being evacuated, well aware of the mass shooting in an El Paso store that left nearly 22 people dead and another man being apprehended outside a Missouri Walmart while wearing full body armor with a loaded gun.

While there is no evidence showing that the text message threat is legitimate, federal investigators are looking into who may have sent it and from where.

The threatening post read: “I just received this text whatever you do this weekend do not go to Wal-Mart for nothing at all pass this on to family and friends. Got this info from a police officer that is a family member they arrest a man for gun threats and he told them that he was not the only on and that his accomplices will be going to different Wal-Mart stares and shooting. Not a game this is real!!!”

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