A Philadelphia man has been charged with staging a preholiday altercation at a Commack Walmart store last year that caused a massive panic, separating parents from children and creating concerns about a possible active shooter, Suffolk County police said.
Marcquis Graham, 24, was arrested Thursday, more than a year after his orchestrated fight with another individual unnerved shoppers and setoff a massive law enforcement response, according to Chief of Department Stuart Cameron.
"Parents were in extreme distress and thought they had lost their child," Cameron said Friday. "This is not behavior we will ever tolerate in Suffolk County."
Graham was arraigned Friday in Suffolk First District Court and charged with second-degree riot, second-degree criminal mischief, unlawful assembly, second-degree reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child, all misdemeanors. He was released on his own recognizance.
Graham is represented by the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County which did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Friday evening. He is due back in court on Dec. 16.
Police are looking for the second individual involved in the staged fight and potentially three other suspects who may have been involved, Cameron said.
Graham and at least four other individuals staged an afternoon "prank" at the Walmart on Crooked Hill Road on Dec. 2, 2018, that they filmed on their cellphones and intended to post on Instagram, Cameron said.
In one incident, two men pretended to fight over a pair of headphones in the store's electronics section, he said.
A second altercation, which caused the melee, occurred near the cashier as the same two men pretended to fight. One of the suspects appeared to slap the other and the sound led some people to believe that a shot may have been fired, police said at the time. Additionally, customers said that one of the suspects screamed "there is a gun."
The county's 911 system was flooded with calls as patrons believed there was an active shooter inside the store, Cameron said. Several terrified parents told 911 operators that they could not find their children and were concerned they had been shot.
"People were absolutely terrified and petrified," said Cameron, who heard some of the distress calls over the police radio and was on his way to the store before learning it was a hoax.
The event prompted a massive response from the Suffolk and New York State Police but authorities determined no shots had been fired and the suspects escaped.
It was not immediately clear how authorities tracked down Graham.
Walmart had not authorized the men to film in the store. The company has said it provided police with security camera footage and was cooperating with the investigation.