Witness To Navy Pier Chaos: ‘People Started Running And Ducking For Cover’

Chicago News

CHICAGO (CBS) — CBS 2 has learned that private security hired by Navy Pier first urged people in the crowd to hit the ground.

Instead, dozens got caught up in a stampede. Thirteen people were hurt in the chaos. Those security guards likely mistaking a firecracker for gunfire.

It didn’t help that at the same time, a fight between teenagers ended with three people stabbed.

CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole spoke to one person who got caught in the middle of it all.

Just looking at the images of the calamity is frightening enough, but imagine being there in person. For a young man home from the military who tried to help those around him, almost a day later they are scenes he just can’t let go.

“All of a sudden swarms of people started running and ducking for cover,” said Jacob Pawletki with the Air Force National Guard.

The images are disturbing to watch on social media posts – frightened people, many families and small children scrambling for safety, hunkering down under restaurant tables, fearing a shooter was on the loose after fireworks celebrations at Navy Pier.

“It was just chaos. There were people calling out names of their kids and calling out names of their family members. It was insane,” Pawletki, a 19-year-old from Norwood Park who said he witnessed it all.

“People were just hopping through and running around it and holding onto their families and there were some kids standing there and freaking out, hiding in corners. I had to go bring them to their families.”

The Airman First Class in the Air National Guard relied on his military training to try to help, but the scene continues to haunt him.

“It was really rough just seeing the faces of those kids,” Pawletki said. “I kept thinking about it throughout the whole night.”

Police confirm that what was a reportedly a firecracker was mistaken by a security guard as an active shooter. But as the crowd approached, Pawletki had no idea of the cause.

“It felt like some sort of terror attack was going on,” Pawletki said.

He said he can’t let go of parents grabbing their children and abandoning their strollers and bags, along with heavily armed officers combing the scene. But with the dangerous warning in the air, he doesn’t know if the confusion could have been avoided.

Thousands are still flocking to Navy Pier, but there are still a number of unanswered questions.

For example, Chicago police won’t clarify what evidence it has that leads them to believe that it was indeed a firecracker that was set off. Navy Pier said it employed several private security firms for assistance last night, it was unable to answer questions from CBS 2 about which firm may have made the mistaken call.

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