WASHINGTON - Pepper spray was released in a downtown office building during Wednesday's lunch hour, but police called it an accident and stressed that it was not terrorism related.
First responders initially treated it as a "mass casualty" incident, when they were unsure of what they we dealing with. They sent some two dozen emergency vehicles to the scene, established a triage center in a nearby park and closed several streets.
"There were two kids horsing around, and a boy pulled a chain around the girl's neck and there must have been pepper spray or some kind of irritant in the container," said Chief Charles H. Ramsey of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department. "Once it's out, people inhale it and you've got a problem."
D.C. Fire and EMS Department spokesman Alan Etter said they assessed 130 people and wound up treating five on the scene. One person was transported to a hospital with what Etter described as complications from asthma.
The spray was released inside a building at 1990 K Street, which runs a full city block south to I Street. It is also about two blocks from the World Bank, which authorities last month said was a possible terror target.
Investigators said the spray was released in a public area on the second floor, which is home to some small restaurants and has a food court style seating area. Etter said the spray was able to get into the building's air conditioning system and travel throughout the building, exposing more people.
Ramsey characterized the incident as an accident and not a prank. He stressed it was not related to the code orange terrorism alert and did not represent a general threat. But initial reports sent the stock market into a temporary dive, with traders fearing it was terrorism.
"It did show a breach of security and the market has not fully discounted something happening here on our shores," said Marc Pado, U.S. market strategist with Cantor Fitzgerald in Truckee, Calif.
"We're able to shrug off news from Iraq, but not necessarily something from our backyard," Pado said. "I wouldn't quite call this a panic," he said, describing it as more of a "dramatic, knee-jerk reaction." The market later recovered.
But terrorism fears weren't limited to Wall Street.
"I had guys on their day off calling me, asking if they should come in," said police Lt. Jeffrey Herold.
Authorities said no charges had been filed against the youngsters involved.