NEWPORT BEACH (CBSLA.com) — Police sought the public’s help Monday in identifying what appeared to be pranksters who entered a Newport Beach movie theater with a leaf-blower.
Officers responded Saturday shortly before 11 p.m. after several 911 emergency calls about a disturbance at the Edwards Big Newport 6 movie theater complex in the 300 block of Newport Center Drive, according to the Newport Beach Police Department.
Witnesses told investigators between two to three male suspects had arranged to open the secured emergency exit door at the front of Theater #3 during a screening of the psychological thriller “The Gift.”
One suspects entered the theater through the emergency door, holding “some type of loud, handheld machine” later determined to be a leaf-blower over his head, police said.
The suspect yelled, shook the leaf-blower, and revved its engine to create a loud and disturbing noise, witnesses told investigators.
The three men reportedly exited the theater through the same emergency exit door, police said.
“You’re literally thinking (about) “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” like there’s crazy people out there,” one injured movie-goer said. “You’re in a theater, and you think you’re going to die.”
“People started screaming, and everybody got up and started running, like fight-or-flight, and some lady pushed me and I fell on the ground, and like seven or eight people trampled over my leg, and over my head.”
Theater Management was alerted to the activity by the emergency door alarm activation and reports from people who ran from the theater, according to police.
Officials say three people suffered minor injuries as moviegoers rushed out of the theater. One of the victims reportedly went to Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian to be checked out.
Police say that whether or not it was meant as a prank, it was no joking matter given a recent series of violent episodes in movie theaters nationally.
“The fear that was incited in moviegoers was very much influenced by what’s going on in the rest of the country,” according to Jennifer Manzella of the Newport Beach Police Department.
Anyone with information regarding the incident or the suspects is asked to contact Detective Joshua Vincelet at (949) 644-3779 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.