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Report of armed person at Harford Community College leads to panic and quick police response, but no suspect

Police responded to reports of an active shooter at Harford Community College on Saturday; as of now there were no shots fired and no suspects identified. (Erika Butler, David Anderson / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

BEL AIR — Days after a lone gunman shot a congressman at a Virginia baseball field, the sight of a suspicious man sparked panic Saturday at a youth baseball tournament in Harford County.

Hundreds of people ran screaming from a pair of ballfields at Harford Community College, witnesses and police said, after someone shouted that a masked man at the perimeter had a gun.

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More than 50 law enforcement officials — including a SWAT team and a helicopter — from five different agencies descended on the tournament within minutes, but they never found a suspect.

"We're not saying this is not real or a hoax. We're treating it as real," said Maj. William Davis, chief of police operations for the Harford County sheriff's office.

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Just two people reported seeing the alleged gunman Saturday afternoon, but they gave authorities vague and differing descriptions, he said. Only one person recalled seeing a gun. Deputies interviewed more than 60 people at the scene, he said.

After searching campus buildings and the area near the Harford Sports Complex at the community college for two hours, police declared an all-clear, and one of the two baseball games resumed.

"It was chaos," said Joey Mosley, who was selling tournament tickets for the Dynamic Baseball league. Two games were underway at 2 p.m., and two others were set to start soon, which he said meant roughly eight teams of players, coaches and families were at the complex at the time.

"Everybody from these games came flying through here," Mosley said. "Everyone was yelling, 'He's got a gun! He's got a gun!' "

Officials said one woman hurt her wrist falling as people raced away from the ball fields.

To some, the incident recalled the Wednesday morning attack on Republican lawmakers practicing softball in Alexandria, Va., when a gunman opened fire and wounded four people before being shot to death by authorities.

"People are probably still on edge," Mosley said. "This was on their minds. That was at a baseball field, too."

Mosley, who lives in North Carolina, works for one of the two organizations holding regional tournaments at the field Saturday – leagues for boys ages 13 through 18.

John Hill was watching his 16-year-old grandson play left field when he heard the shouting.

"It was kind of hard to believe at first. A gun? On a ball field? And then I saw about 40 people coming this way. I didn't wait to find out if it was true," he said.

Harford County Sheriff Major John "Jack" Simpson said Wednesday's shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise near D.C. did not affect how the agency responded to Saturday's report of a gunman. In fact, he said, the agency had done a tabletop, simulated drill on a similar active-shooter situation just on Tuesday.

He attributed the panic Saturday more to the general reality of the world than a reaction to the shooting last week. He said that people responded just as they should.

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"I would hope that in today's world, that if they [citizens] saw something — someone with a gun — they wouldn't hesitate to call us," Simpson said.

Dianna G. Phillips, the president of the Harford Community College, called Saturday's incident "a situation of see-something, say-something, and it activated an entire emergency response."

She said that people did the right thing calling in the authorities, but added, "We never want to have to do this ever again."

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Erika Butler contributed to this article.

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