Union Walmart evacuated; reports of masked gunman unfounded

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A Walmart in Union Township was evacuated Thursday morning for reports of a masked gunman. But police say that these reports were unfounded and that there was no credible threat.

Authorities say that a customer was sent a message through social media warning of a possible shooting at the store. That customer called the police, and the Walmart was evacuated around 10 a.m.

Police say that some other customers reported seeing a person inside the Walmart with a handgun, but it was not believed to be a real weapon.

"A shopper saw something, reported it to police. What they saw appears to be a toy gun that was being stolen from Walmart,” says acting Union County Prosecutor Lyndsay Ruotolo.

Authorities later announced that they charged 20-year-old Joshua Phillips of Newark with third-degree creating a false public alarm, third-degree possession of a weapon, and shoplifting. Officials say that Phillips took a large, black Airsoft gun out of its package and later "discarded it elsewhere in the store."

Phillips turned himself in after he became aware of the media coverage surrounding the evacuation, according to the prosecutor's office.

Ruotolo says that although there turned out to be no danger at the Walmart, she still wants people to report suspicious activities.

"We keep each other safe by working together and I would encourage everyone to continue to do that. Speak up when you see something,” she says.

The Walmart was closed for most of the morning and reopened around 3:30 p.m.

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