THE INVESTIGATORS: Questions remain unanswered following Burbank Walmart fiasco

THE INVESTIGATORS: Questions remain unanswered after mass panic at Baton Rouge Walmart

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The absolute chaos that broke out inside the Burbank Walmart around lunchtime on Tuesday, Aug. 6 started with a 911 call. Listen to the 911 audio below.

EBRSO: 911 audio from Walmart incident

Panicked customers desperately pleaded with 911 operators to send help fast, saying someone had opened fire inside the store. The East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office has since confirmed that Robert Tucker, 44, as well as Jacob Bess, 32, were both arrested and charged with disturbing the peace. Tucker was also slapped with a charge of aggravated assault with a firearm.

SCANNER TRAFFIC: “This will be the Walmart on Burbank. Shooting in progress at the Walmart... still trying to get further.”

Tucker was arrested in the parking lot. According to the sheriff’s office, he told detectives during an interview he got into an argument with a man near the customer service area. The 9News Investigators requested a copy of the surveillance video from inside the store to get a better idea of exactly what happened. On Wednesday, Aug. 8, WAFB’s Scottie Hunter was told the video would be available Thursday. Now, officials with the sheriff’s office say the release of the video is being held up by their legal team, who says the matter is still under investigation. The sheriff’s office did release a portion of the 911 calls hours after the incident, despite the case still being under review.

SCANNER TRAFFIC: “Dispatch, we’re pulling up.. when’s the last time they heard the shots?”

Investigators say at some point during the argument, Tucker says the other guy went outside and came back with scissors. Investigators say Tucker claims he heard someone yell “gun” and that’s when he pulled out his own firearm.

SCANNER TRAFFIC: “We’re being advised the shooter is possibly in the parking lot... He had heard shots fired in the store.”

Within minutes of the initial call, deputies with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office descended on the store, along with Louisiana State Police, officers with the Baton Rouge Police Department, East Baton Rouge EMS, and other emergency crews also racing in to help.

“It’s like a war zone here in Baton Rouge Louisiana," customer, Dana Jones, said as the incident unfolded. Outside the store, frantic customers and employees told officers and the media they were convinced they heard several “pops” after some sort of fight inside the store.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Jones if she remembers how many shots she heard at the time.

“There were like four. It was a ‘pop, pop, pop’ and then there was a pause and then ‘pop, pop, pop’ again,” she answered. “I think when we heard the second set of ‘pop pops,’ that’s when people started thinking well there is a gun, there is a gun and that’s when everybody just really started moving and Walmart employees were trying to get people out of the store.”

Below is the initial news conference EBRSO held outside the store on Tuesday.

HAPPENING NOW: Officials speak about shooting at Baton Rouge Walmart. https://bit.ly/2KmQTbj

Posted by WAFB Channel 9 on Tuesday, August 6, 2019

As a helicopter circled overhead, the sheriff’s office decided they would update everyone on what happened inside the store, however, most of that update eventually turned out to be wrong.

“Shots were fired. One of the patrons in the store, an innocent patron was struck twice,” said Sheriff Sid Gautreaux during the news conference. “We do have one suspect that is in custody who was involved in the altercation and the other one is still at large.”

Hours after that update, the sheriff’s office sent out a cryptic email to the media, saying some of the information they passed along might change. The following statement was released at 1:54 p.m.:

The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office released this vague statement to the media Tuesday, Aug. 6.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office released this vague statement to the media Tuesday, Aug. 6. (Source: EBRSO)

The sheriff’s office did not release updated information until hours later at 4:20 p.m. While many folks worried about the chaotic series of events, the sheriff’s office dropped what amounts to a bombshell. In their updated release, they said that in fact, no one had been shot and the person who was taken to the hospital was actually hurt while running from the store during the panic.

The statement reads:

"On today’s date, the Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call in which the caller stated, ‘there are two black males in the Wal-Mart on Burbank shooting.’ Shortly thereafter, Sheriff’s Deputies arrived to find a very chaotic scene.

Panicked customers were running from the front and rear entrances to the store, and told initial responding Deputies that they could hear ‘popping’ sounds that they believed to be gun shots. Sheriff’s Deputies entered the store, and made an initial security search of the store, to ensure there were no shooting victims in the store, and there was not an active shooting incident that was ongoing. At the same time, another 911 caller advised that Deputies had detained one of the suspects involved in the incident. This suspect was found to be in possession of a handgun. Additionally, the Sheriff’s Office received information that someone had arrived at a local hospital transported by private vehicle with what was believed to be gunshot wounds. This was reported by the injured victim to hospital emergency room personnel.

A second security sweep of the store was conducted by EBRSO & BRPD Swat personnel, and found the store to be secure. At this point, investigators began gathering witness statements, interviewing store employees, and reviewing store surveillance video. Upon reviewing the video, investigators determined initial information obtained from eyewitnesses, and the 911 calls, was not accurate. Investigators have determined that an altercation did occur in the Customer Service area of the store between two males, where weapons were drawn. When customers saw the handgun, panic set in, and customers were running and screaming while trying to exit the store. Many witnesses have reported hearing ‘popping’ noises during the incident. A forensic examination of the weapon taken from the detained suspect will be conducted. The second suspect involved in the initial altercation ran from the store and has not been located as of yet. The investigation is ongoing, and investigators still have video to review and compare to eyewitness statements.

Given the recent events in El Paso and Dayton, and given the initial information we received via 911 calls and witnesses exiting the store, we responded with what we feel is appropriate. The national climate regarding these incidents has the nation on edge, and citizens’ anxiety levels much higher than normal. We are in a position that we must respond according to our protocols and training to ensure that we are keeping our citizens safe. I would like to personally thank all of our law enforcement partners, on the local, state, and federal levels, as well as all medical and fire department personnel for the tremendous response to this incident. Preliminary investigation results gathered are that a shooting incident did not occur, however the investigation is ongoing. We will update with any further developments from this incident."

It’s still unclear what the “pops” were so many witnesses were convinced they heard and how investigators who looked into the incident ended up so far off the mark.

WAFB has been reaching out to EBRSO for an interview with the sheriff for the past two days and was told the sheriff is unavailable.

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