Tens of thousands of people have turned out in cities across the United States to march against gun violence in the wake of a string of highly publicised mass shootings.
But one moment of panic broke out during the event in Washington DC in a tense few seconds that highlighted the frightening reality of the problem attendees were seeking to protest.
With crowds gathered around a stage on the Washington Monument grounds, people became panic-stricken and tried to flee after somebody yelled: "gun shot"
Local journalist Ashlie Rodriguez who was on the ground said the moment of fear set off a chain reaction.
"Once people started running, others started running, causing momentary chaos and fear," she tweeted, adding that some marchers were left in tears.
— 7News DC (@7NewsDC) June 11, 2022
As commotion broke out and people began jumping over a nearby fence, a woman can be heard over the PA system.
"Do not run. Freeze, do not run," she told the crowd. "There is no issue here. Do not run."
A video posted on Twitter by Ms Rodriguez showed one female attendee shaking and crying in the wake of the false alarm as a friend comforted her.
Authorities reportedly identified the individual who triggered the scare.
"An individual interfered with a permitted event on the Washington Monument grounds. The individual was detained by officers. No weapons were involved and there is no risk to the public," the US Park Police tweeted, regarding the incident.
Panic and tears triggered after someone yelled “gun shot” at #MarchForOurLives rally. Once people started running, others started running, causing momentary chaos and fear. Police arrived, there was no threat @7NewsDC pic.twitter.com/EX2eD26dKv
— Ashlie Rodriguez 7News (@Ashlie7News) June 11, 2022
In the nation's capital, organisers of the March for Our Lives (MFOL) estimated 40,000 people assembled in Washington under occasional light rain on Saturday (local time).
The gun safety group was founded by student survivors of the 2018 massacre at a Parkland, Florida, high school.
Protester Courtney Haggerty, 41, said the 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, when a gunman killed 26 people, mostly children, came one day after her daughter's first birthday.
"It left me raw," she said. "I can't believe she's going to be 11, and we're still doing this."
District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser said "enough is enough".
"I speak as a mayor, a mom, and I speak for millions of Americans and America’s mayors who are demanding that Congress do its job. And its job is to protect us, to protect our children from gun violence," she told the crowd.
'Nothing happens in this country until young people stand up'
In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams, who campaigned on reining in violence in the nation’s largest city, joined state Attorney General Letitia James, who is suing the National Rifle Association, in leading activists across the Brooklyn Bridge.
“Nothing happens in this country until young people stand up — not politicians,” Ms James said.
The latest shootings have added new urgency to the country's ongoing debate over gun violence, though the prospects for federal legislation remain uncertain given staunch Republican opposition to any limits on firearms.
In recent weeks, a bipartisan group of Senate negotiators have vowed to hammer out a deal, though they have yet to reach an agreement.
Their effort is focused on relatively modest changes, such as incentivising states to pass "red flag" laws that allow authorities to keep guns from individuals deemed dangerous.
US President Joe Biden, a Democrat who earlier this month urged Congress to ban assault weapons, expand background checks and implement other measures, said he supported Saturday's protests.
"We are being murdered," said X Gonzalez, a Parkland survivor and co-founder of MFOL, in an emotional speech alongside survivors of other mass shootings.
"You, Congress, have done nothing to prevent it."
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