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Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy speaks about the Hamilton Place Mall shooting incident that happened late Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018.

This story was updated Feb. 26, 2018, at 11:59 p.m.

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Police identify suspect in mall riot incident

Chattanooga police have identified a suspect in the aggravated riot incident that forced the evacuation of Hamilton Place mall as 18-year-old David Ballard, who authorities said could be armed and dangerous.

Surveillance video shows Saturday's incident began with a fight inside, which escalated when Ballard took out a firearm, Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy said Monday.

Investigators have not found physical evidence, such as shell casings or bullet holes, indicating shots were fired in the shopping center, but a handgun was dropped in the parking lot. Sweeps for evidence outside the building yielded a shell casing, but it is unclear if that casing is related to this incident.

INFORMATION NEEDED

Anyone with information on David Ballard's whereabouts should contact the Chattanooga Police Department tip line at 423-643-5100.

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David LeBron Ballard
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Chief David Roddy.

Warrants have been issued for Ballard's arrest on charges of aggravated riot, alteration of a weapon, unlawful possession of a firearm and felony reckless endangerment. The riot charge stems from minor injuries sustained by a girl who fell to the ground in a rush to get out of the building. Witnesses told police several people shouted "Gun! He has a Gun!" which escalated into panic.

Multiple witnesses also told police they heard shots being fired, but Roddy said he didn't want to make any assumptions about what they might have heard or how they reacted in the chaos.

"Fear is a very powerful emotion," he said. "We've heard a lot of theories from tables being knocked over to gates being slammed, but I don't want to minimize anyone's fear by saying I know what was in their head."

Roddy also said social media posts that erroneously reported mass casualties only added to the chaos. He pointed to one post in which someone said 20 people has been shot.

"The irresponsible and reckless postings that occurred on Saturday night contributed directly to the fear that members of this community were subjected to," he said. "It's unconscionable, and some folks need to just simply stop it. That's reckless and it directly impacts this department and it directly impacts this community, and it's not something that we're willing to just sit back and not talk about."

Officials at Hamilton Place issued a statement Sunday confirming a fight did occur, "which led to confusion and caused the property to be evacuated."

"Hamilton Place appreciates the Chattanooga Police Department's quick response and their thorough investigation, which confirmed there were no shots fired inside or outside of the property," the statement reads.

"While we regret that the mall was closed for a period of time, our primary interest is always our shoppers, employees and retailers."

Asked about what security changes might be made at the location moving forward, Stacey Keating, spokeswoman for CBL & Associates Properties, reiterated part of that statement, saying, "We evaluate our security protocols on an ongoing basis and make adjustments as necessary."

CBL upgraded security at Hamilton Place in January of last year after a string of disturbances, including a double shooting. The company said at the time it would hire more off-duty officers and extend the curfew for teens during peak shopping hours.

Hamilton Place has a "youth escort policy," which dictates that "visitors under 18 are required to be accompanied by a parent or guardian 21 years or older on Friday and Saturday evenings after 4 p.m."

The mall's website states the policy can be implemented at other times when it is deemed "appropriate or necessary by management, security and/or local authorities." For example, managers recently chose to enforce the policy the day after Christmas, citing an increase seen in the number of incidents on that day in shopping centers across the country.

The decision came almost a year after three people were arrested in connection with a theft in Victoria's Secret involving fireworks. Police said the trio entered the store, grabbed several pieces of clothing off the racks and one detonated a handful of firecrackers.

The group fled in the ensuing bedlam, making off with at least $1,000 in merchandise. Three people were injured in the panic and the firecrackers caused about $2,000 in damage, police estimated.

Police also have responded to shootings at Hamilton Place, including a nonfatal incident in March of last year. The victim in that shooting, 34-year-old Robert Driver Jr. suffered a minor gunshot wound in the parking lot near Bar Louie.

Benjamin Connally, manager of Chattanooga vape store Vapor Tonics, was arrested and charged with attempted murder in connection with that shooting two months later.

Two other men, 18-year-old Malik Beavers and 19-year-old Adam Bulloch, were shot in a separate incident several months before on Black Friday in 2016. The incident began as a fight between seven or eight men in the mall, but the argument spilled outside into the Sears and J.C. Penney parking lot.

A juvenile arrested three days later in connection to the shooting was charged with and pleaded guilty in juvenile court to two counts of attempted murder and reckless endangerment.

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at egienapp@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.

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