Update (5:16 p.m.): An eagle-eyed resident helped police catch the man they say threw a crude incendiary device into the Ballston Common Mall food court Thursday afternoon, authorities said at a news conference just after 4:30 p.m.
“We received a call about a man walking in Clarendon who matched the description we had put out,” Arlington County Police Lt. Michael Watson said. “He was detained and brought into ACPD to be questioned.”
The caller indicated that the man who fit the police department's description was walking near the Cheesecake Factory. The suspect is now being questioned by local and federal authorities, including the FBI and ATF.
Ballston Common Mall and Wilson Boulevard have reopened.
Original story: Emergency responders were called to Ballston Common Mall on Thursday after someone dropped a bottle with a fuse in it from an upper level into the food court shortly after noon, according to the Arlington County Police Department.
No injuries were reported.
The bottle contained a substance that has not yet been identified, Arlington County Fire Capt. Gregg Karl said. Police are calling the item a "Molotov cocktail” and say three additional bottles of the substance were found in a bag on the mall's second floor.
Investigators said the suspect escaped before they could arrive and described him as a man with curly hair wearing a gray jacket.
The 40-ounce bottle shattered, but did not ignite. There was no explosion or fire, according to police.
Investigators are continuing to search for similar bottles, which could take several hours, police Lt. Michael Watson said. Canine units were called to help in the investigation, he said.
“We are in evidence-gathering mode now,” he said.
The mall remained closed to new customers as of 3 p.m., but customers who were inside before the incident occurred are being permitted to leave.
The FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force is taking over the investigation, Watson said. Homeland Security and the ATF are all also on scene.
Tre Johnson told Patch that he was eating in the food court when he saw someone on a floor above him — perhaps the second or third floor.
"He yelled something and threw something," Johnson told Patch. "I don't know what he said. It sounded like some weird language."
Police soon came through and asked him to leave. Johnson said he could smell gasoline as he was walking out.
Watson confirmed that the smell of gas came from the bottle that was thrown.
Wilson Alvarez, who works in the Sprint store on the first floor of the mall, said he heard a crash and looked into the food court and saw a group of people wearing uniforms surrounded by a black substance.
“I saw black stuff on the floor then five minutes later police came,” Alvarez said. “Then the police dogs came and I knew it was something.”
Arlington County is asking drivers and commuters to avoid the mall area. Eastbound Wilson Boulevard is closed at North Taylor Street, according to a county alert.
Police are asking anyone with any knowledge of this incident to call the department's non-emergency line at 703-558-2222.
This article has been updated.
Photos: Ballston Mall Evacuated After 'Molotov Cocktail' Scare