Forensic Analyst: Audio From Crabtree Incident Not Indicative of a Gunshot

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Rob Maher; MSU photo by Kelly Gorham

An incident at the Crabtree Valley Mall on Glenwood Avenue Saturday that was initially reported to involve an “active shooter” but which turned up no gunshot victims, no shooter and no shell casings was likely triggered by a noise mistakenly believed to be a gun being fired.

Instagram user Lena Holliday was at the mall and happened to begin filming two men dancing just before the incident. A loud noise can be heard at the end of this short clip.

In order to better understand the video, we reached out to Dr. Robert Maher of Montana State University, a professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering who also provides expert audio forensic testimony in court cases across the country.

Rob Maher; MSU photo by Kelly Gorham

Rob Maher; MSU photo by Kelly Gorham

“My quick assessment of the recording is that it certainly captures a very abrupt and loud sound, but the characteristics are not unequivocally the sound of the muzzle blast from a firearm,” Maher said.

“The typical characteristic of a nearby gunshot is a sharp crack or pop, rather than the predominantly low-frequency boom that is present in this recording.”

Maher went on to note that “without additional information, I would not be able to make a scientific statement based on this recording alone.”

In his experience, however, Maher said “it is quite common for ear witnesses to expect a loud, booming sound from a gunshot, because this is typically how gunshots are depicted in motion pictures and in video games.

“Actual gunshots are often described by ear witnesses as sounding like pops or firecrackers, rather than the big boom they have come to expect from movies and games.”

Maher sent over two .5 second audio segments, comparing the Instagram video with a reverberant gunshot surveillance recording. Reverberant, Maher explained, simply means the audio includes sound reflections and echoes, similar to the Instagram video.

“The typical gunshot recording has less of the low-frequency boom characteristic,” Maher said.


Crabtree Incident Noise Isolated:

Reverberant Gunshot:

While Maher stressed he could not give a definitive answer either way as to the origin of the sound captured in the Instagram video, he said he was “sure the law enforcement investigation will include the possibility of some sort of mechanical sound from the air handling system, for example, or the sound of a heavy access hatch or door being closed abruptly.”

The Raleigh Police Department issued the following statement regarding the incident at 5:25 p.m. on Sunday, August 14 that appears to back up Maher’s assertion.

Investigative follow-up still remains under way. All known witnesses to yesterday’s occurrences have been interviewed and there remains no explanation for the loud noise that people reported. After a review of evidence collected at the scene, there continues to be no indication that a gunshot was fired.

There is no additional information about the status of the injuries sustained as people were trying to leave the mall.

Anyone that has relevant information concerning the origin of the sound that was heard and has not yet spoken with a detective is asked to call Raleigh CrimeStoppers at (919) 834-HELP or for text and email reporting options. CrimeStoppers pays cash rewards for anonymous tips that help solve cases.

The information below was distributed at 10:26 p.m. August 13:
The Raleigh Police Department’s active work at the scene has concluded, however, investigative follow-up remains under way. There still continues to be no indication that there were any gunshot victims.

As Chief Deck-Brown stated earlier, the Raleigh Police Department is grateful for all of the assistance received from multiple agencies including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the North Carolina State Highway Patrol; the State Bureau of Investigation; Wake County Emergency Management; Wake County Emergency Medical Services; the Wake County Sheriff’s Office; the City-County Bureau of Identification; the Raleigh Fire Department; the Crabtree Valley Mall Police Department; the NC State University Department of Transportation; GoRaleigh; as well as the Marriott and Embassy Suites. Also a thank you to all of the people that were at the mall for their patience as we responded to this incident.

It’s known that people may have abandoned personal belongings as they fled from the mall today. Anyone who believes he or she may have left behind an item of value should contact the Crabtree Valley Mall or visit the Crabtree Valley Facebook page for additional information.

Department spokesperson Laura Hourigan told The Record on Sunday that the 911 calls made at the time of the incident would be released on August 15.

When asked whether police had been able to pinpoint the source of the incident through security footage, Hourigan said “In keeping with our customary practice, we won’t discuss evidence. We’ll let our release stand as what we can say at this point.”

Gun Violence in Raleigh

While there were no gunshot victims as a result of the Crabtree incident, there were two shooting incidents in the City that same day which both resulted in fatal injuries.

The first was at Mambo 69, a nightclub on New Hope Church Road near New Bern Avenue. The other was on Capital Boulevard, where a man was shot and drove into a light pole. He later died from his injuries. The accident downed several power lines and closed Capital Boulevard for several hours on Saturday.

According to data provided by the City of Raleigh, the Raleigh Police Department has responded to a total of 376 calls for shots fired so far this year. This figure includes data through Saturday, August 13.

In addition to the City of Raleigh statistics, the website provides a database with its own accounting of shooting incidents across the nation, including those occurring within the city of Raleigh.

Although it has sometimes been criticized for not providing a full account of every gunshot victim, the list below offers more detail than the data from the City, and contains far fewer incidents.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been a total of 45 shooting incidents in Raleigh in 2016, which resulted in nine fatalities and 29 injuries. That list, which also includes links to source material for every incident, can be viewed below.

Interestingly enough, the data from both the City of Raleigh and the Gun Violence Archive for January-August of 2015 show numbers that match up exactly with the 2016 data.

In fact, from January 1, 2015 through August 13, 2015, there were the exact same number — 376 — of 911 calls for shots fired as there were for January 2016-August 13, 2016.

While the number of fatalities and injuries reported in the 2015 time frame provided by the Gun Violence Archive were slightly lower — eight and 25, respectively — the total number of incidents remained the same at 45.

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