A man with a belt made of bullets triggered the evacuation of Pace University in lower Manhattan Thursday afternoon, NYPD Deputy Commissioner John Miller said.
Students and faculty streamed out of the Park Row building just after 2:20 p.m. after a group of people reported to police that they saw a man with what appeared to be a gun and ammunition inside a sixth-floor bathroom, Miller said.
"...They observed what they thought was belt-fed ammunition, the type that might go with a machine gun, protruding from under one of the stalls," Miller explained.
When the group of men went to see what it was and looked under the stall, they saw what they believed was a guy loading a machine gun, according to Miller. When the man looked out, they ran from the bathroom and called 911.
The call set off "a number of procedures," from the NYPD's active shooter protocol, Miller said, including a response from the precinct and EMS units followed by strategic response and critical response commands, which clear and then hold the building during a search for an active shooter.
Lines of students were led out of the building and across the street as several NYPD vehicles blocked off Park Row.
Julia Bush, 18, was in her economics lecture waiting for it to start when her teaching assistant received a call that they needed to leave.
"They opened up all the construction areas," she said. "I'm just a little flustered. It was definitely very hurried, everyone was very shaken up by everything."
Pace student and military veteran Aaron Culp, 24, was in the basement with other vets when they were told to evacuate.
"I grabbed my (glass) cup -- rather have a weapon than no weapon," he said.
As Pace was being evacuated, Miller said officers saw a man wearing a belt made out of bullets, "the type found in a rifle or machine gun," and talked to him, determining that he was likely the man in the bathroom.
"His belt was just a belt that he wore before as part of his wardrobe, a fashion statement. Probably not a good fashion statement," Miller said. The witnesses then confirmed it was the same man they saw in the stall.
The belt was taken by police, who will test it to determine if the bullets are live rounds, though Miller said the man claimed they are not. Police released a photo of the belt on Friday.
“There is no active shooter. There is no man with a gun. There were no shots fired. There is no one injured, we’d like to relay those concerns,” Miller said during an afternoon news conference.
When asked if the man would be charged, Miller joked, "We're considering charging one individual with a fashion crime, but we're conferring with the fashion prosecutor.
"In the great law of unintended consequences, what we had was well meaning (witnesses) who made legitimate observations, did the right thing by calling the police, a very well-honed police response that we have practiced time and again in what appeared to be a real, live incident," Miller added. "And what for everybody – given the original report – turns out to be a happy, if not slightly awkward ending for the individual wearing the belt."
The evacuation order at Pace was lifted and the university confirmed on Twitter that there were no injuries.
"There was police activity at One Pace Plaza. It was a false alarm. There were no injuries and everyone is safe," the university tweeted.