LEBANON, TN (WSMV) - A false alarm at the fair sent hundreds of people into a frenzy in Wilson County on Saturday night.

Lebanon Police identified where the chaos started and who started it within hours thanks to new facial recognition technology.

Robin Searcey said she and her grandchildren genuinely felt like they were running for their lives.

“I have to get the kids to safety. You don't think about anything else,” Searcey said.

The active shooter scare turned out to be nothing. Police were quickly able to figure out it was a group of teens yelling “active shooter” who started it with new software.

The Lebanon Police Department has dozens of cameras set up across the Wilson County Fairgrounds, but they aren't just surveilling, they're scanning faces.

If they show up in another database, be it criminal or work-related, the facial recognition system can provide police with a name.

“We scoured hundreds of clips from that area from that incident,” Lebanon Police Department Sgt. PJ Hardy said. “We were able to identify the ones that were running away screaming ‘gun, gun!’”

Hardy said they've since received criticism that the rumor spiraled so out of control, but he said that can be pinned on social media.

“We’re prepared,” said Hardy, who said the officers at the fair did everything they have trained for.

All three teens will face criminal charges.

Lebanon Police Department Chief Mike Justice released a statement to Facebook giving an update on the investigation:

48 hours after the events that took place at the Wilson County Fair, that caused great fear for many fair goers, we would like to give an update on our investigation.

To recap, at approximately 10:14 PM, Saturday night, two groups of juveniles got into a physical altercation in the midway area of the fairgrounds. As Sheriffs Deputies and LPD Officers rushed to the scene, the surrounding crowd began to disperse and run from the area. During this, several individuals, with malicious and negligent intent, starting yelling words that to an innocent bystander, would lead them to believe that persons with weapons were shooting in that area. This caused an immediate panic to those nearby and people began to frantically flee the area. What ensued was a lightning fast social media storm of posts that stated there was an active shooting situation taking place at the Fair. Many posted that they heard gunshots, some even stated they saw weapons. Minutes after the initial notification of the fight by members of the fair board, the immediate area was locked down, meaning no one was allowed to enter the area, during the initial phase of this very fluid situation. 
Subsequently, Four juveniles, who were identified as the primary aggressors, were extracted from the area and detained. They were later transported and charged with disorderly conduct. Three others were identified (by facial recognition software utilized during the fair) as instigators in inciting fear and our investigation will be continuing on potential charges against them. 
After approximately 25-30 minutes, the area of the initial incident was reopened and patrons were allowed to continue without restriction.

Given this, Fair operations were allowed to resume until well after 12:30 am, when it was scheduled to close, with no further incident.

In the last 48 hours, we have interviewed dozens of people who were witnesses to the situation. Many were understandably shaken and upset with what took place. They perceived the situation as being an actual active threat. No one reported that they saw an actual weapon, but some reported what they believed to be gunshots. To date, no viable report has come to our department or the Sheriff's Office of anyone seeing a weapon firsthand. 
We have also interviewed all officers involved and they stated they heard the shouting and the reference to gunfire, but there were no gunshots nor any weapons present on suspects in the response area. In fact, responding Officers had radioed back to our Central Command during the incident and advised them that there were no weapons visable nor were there gunshots present in the area. Many of our Officers, as well as Deputies that responded, had stated that they were impacted by the sight of people fleeing in fear. But at no time did they see a weapon or hear gunshots during the incident.

We have reviewed hours of video footage from our surveillance system, which encompasses all areas of the grounds, and we have not found any evidence of weapons present.

A leading question that has been asked is why would people report hearing gunshots if there were none. We do not want to downplay or dismiss anyone's reaction or recollection of this event. We recognize and are aware that this was an extremely terrifying event for several people. But given the chaotic circumstances of the event, people’s perceptions may have been eschewed.

In conclusion, it is our finding that this traumatic event was triggered by a youth fight, further propagated by individuals who were callous and reckless by shouting out things that lead others to believe guns were present and being fired, and further exasperated by a social media frenzy of misinformation.

Our thoughts go out to those who were in genuine fear and traumatized during this incident. Our thanks go to not only the officers who responded quickly to mitigate the situation, but the countless other responders and volunteers who joined in to protect fair goers and officers alike.

And lastly, hundreds of hours go into preparation, planning and training amongst all agencies involved, as it pertains to the Fair.

As you can imagine, the Lebanon Police Department and the Wilson County Sheriff's Office will always go the extra mile for the protection of our citizens everyday. Furthermore, like many of you, we are parents of children that begin two months out talking about the Fair coming to town.

We all have a vested interest, so please remember, “If you see something, say something.” Don’t hesitate to report anything you feel is suspicious or abnormal.

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Reporter

Rebecca Cardenas is a Murrow-award winning journalist who joined News4 as a reporter in September 2017. She currently covers the court systems in Middle Tennessee.

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