Authorities now say false reports of gunfire repeated over and over on the Internet helped cause the panic, which caused more than two dozen flights to be diverted from LAX and resulted in at least two flight cancellations.
“People started running, bags were slamming to the ground, people were falling down,” opera singer Kenny Stavert, visiting Los Angeles from Houston, told the Associated Press.
“There was so much chaos you couldn’t tell if people were falling down because they were shot,” he said.
Stavert said the panic started about the time police were questioning a tourist dressed as Zorro at the baggage claim.
The man, who was carrying a plastic sword, had posted for pictures and hugged a woman at the baggage claim before walking outside and being confronted by police, Stavert said.
Passengers searched for information on their smartphones and rumors quickly spread, he said.
Authorities corralled Stavert and others from the baggage area and into the terminal, where they were forced to lie on the ground, or outside to a parking lot, the AP said.
But an extensive search of the airport and affected terminals one, four, six, seven and eight turned up no evidence of a gunman nor that any shots had been fired, a Los Angeles Police Department spokesman said.
Airport officials issued a written statement concluding that reports of a shooting were unsubstantiated.
“Word spread quickly through the terminals by word-of-mouth, social media, and additional calls were made to Airport Police about an active shooter in other terminals, with some reporting having heard gunshots,” the statement said.
“Many passengers and employees evacuated onto the airfield and into the Central Terminal Area roadways,” the statement said.
No one was hurt, officials said.
The disruption was the second at a major U.S. airport in the past two weeks, following a two-hour shutdown of John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Aug. 14 after reports of shots fired that also turned out to be unsubstantiated.