Moviegoers endure active shooting scare in Austin theater during ‘Nightmare Alley’ screening

An Austin moviegoer took to Twitter over the weekend to report on a Nightmare Alley screening at an AMC theater at Barton Creek Mall that turned into a nightmare.

Patrons confused sounds from a jewelry store robbery at a nearby mall with gunfire, creating a chaotic scene in which moviegoers had to evacuate the theater — with one person contending the theater didn’t warn the audience of what was actually causing the alarm.

Eric Vespe, a contributor to a number of entertainment sites, criticized the theater chain on Saturday night via tweet, alleging that managers and employees at the theater abandoned ship during the scary moments that ensued when patrons thought they were in the midst of an active shooter situation.

“Thanks for the refund,” Vespe said, addressing AMC directly, “but maybe next time tell your employees (especially the managers) not to skip out when an emergency situation arises and leave your patrons to figure out if their lives are in danger all on their own.”

Vespe reported that he was about an hour into the movie when, as he reported, “a lady in front of me got up and left the theater. She came back a couple minutes later and gathered the rest of her group, then told me ‘they’re asking us to exit.'”

He went on to relay, “Unsure what that meant, I relayed that to my group. Me and my friend Aaron cautiously went out to the hallway while the rest of our group stuck close to our theater’s emergency exit. It was eerily silent and empty in the hallway.”

He went on to report on the police vehicles and audiences at the mall, noting that he “never encountered any responders,” adding, “I assume they were inside dealing with whatever the hell is going on.”

He went on to note that he “almost got sideswiped by a car driving through empty parking spots … but that was the closest I felt to any real danger.”

As it turns out, there was no active shooter at the mall — the sounds were coming from a nearby Helzberg Diamonds store, and the sound of glass cases being smashed were mistaken for gunshots.

It’s understandable that Vespe was on high alert, though — the Aurora, Colo., shooting during a screening of Dark Knight Rises back in 2012 has changed the way moviegoers think about going to theaters. While the Department of Homeland Security does have guidelines on its site about dealing with active shooter situations, the PDF dates back to 2008.

Vespe contends that the people staffing the theater didn’t move to evacuate the theater. He asserted, “The real crazy thing is there was no alarm in the theater, no employees came in to evacuate us or tell us what was going on. The projector kept going, the lights stayed down. For all I know I’d still be sitting there obliviously watching the movie.”

He went on to thank the “random lady in front of me for doing what AMC staff should have been doing.”

However, KEYE-TV, Austin’s CBS affiliate, shared footage of other moviegoers being made to evacuate the theater, taken by a patron inside.

We Got This Covered reached out to a staff member at the Barton Creek Mall theater, who declined to comment, as well as to its corporate public relations representative, who did not respond at press time.

We Got This Covered has also reached out to Vespe.