What seemed to explode inside a Florida mall? It wasn’t a bomb after all

No one was injured when an improvised explosive device detonated in a corridor next to the JC Penny at the Eagle Ridge Mall in Lake Wales Sunday.
No one was injured when an improvised explosive device detonated in a corridor next to the JC Penny at the Eagle Ridge Mall in Lake Wales Sunday. Spectrum Bay News 9

The Eagle Ridge Mall was scheduled to reopen Monday morning after its stores and hallways were evacuated Sunday evening because what was initially reported as two devices exploded inside the mall. It was later determined by the FBI that what appeared to be flares were ignited in the area.

Monday morning, the FBI released a statement saying there was “no indication of any explosion at the mall and no pipe bombs were found.”

The statement noted two items, believed to be marine flares, were ignited in the hallway, which created “a large amount of smoke.”

A backpack also found at the scene was examined by bomb technicians who determined it did not contain any incendiary or explosive devices, according to the FBI.

The mall in Lake Wales returned to regular hours Monday, according to a statement released by the Eagle Ridge Mall to reporters.

“We are extremely grateful to the first responders and security personnel who acted quickly to ensure the safety of our guests, tenants and employees. A law enforcement investigation is currently underway to determine the cause of the incident, and Eagle Ridge Mall will assist investigators in any way possible,” the statement read.

Lake Wales police told reporters the devices were flares wrapped in electrical tape inside a plastic pipe, according to FOX 13. The drop ceiling where the devices went off was damaged.

Detectives investigating Sunday’s incident were told by witnesses a middle-aged man with a stocky build wearing a gray shirt and a gray hat was seen running from the mall,according to WFLA News Channel 8. Officials are still looking for the man, calling him a person of interest.

Crews were called to the scene after fire alarms went off in the mall just before 5:30 p.m.. They saw smoke coming from the building as they arrived, according to ABC Action News.

No one was injured. The devices were in a service corridor near a delivery loading dock, according to WFLA.

There were about 100 people inside the mall when the explosion occurred, according to WTSP.

"We’re a family-oriented community, this is a family-oriented mall. While this was going on my son was actually working up here at the mall,” Lake Wales Deputy Chief Troy Schulze said in a Sunday night press conference. “It’s very concerning when you think about it, people here shopping, just enjoying a Sunday afternoon or evening with their family and literally ‘boom.’”

The FBI was notified of the devices, and said in a statement they will continue to work with local law enforcement on the investigation to find who was responsible.

There is no current indication of any terrorist connection to the incident, according to the FBI.

Anyone with information on this incident can call Lake Wales Police Detective Whitney Dukes at 863-678-4223 or Heartland Crime Stoppers at 800-226-8477.

Sara Nealeigh: 941-745-7081, @saranealeigh