Heavily armed police responded to reports of gunfire, sending terrified passengers to the floor.
There is growing speculation that cheering by fans watching TV coverage of the fastest man on Earth, Usain Bolt, winning the 100 meter Olympic final may have been mistaken as gunfire.
Panic broke out at Terminal 8 at around 9:30 p.m., the same time Bolt’s race was being broadcast live from Rio.
The pandemonium spread to Terminal 1 after gunfire was reported there too. That also turned out to be a false report.
Social media posts captured how frightened travelers were as they hid for safety.
Quite the last 5 hours at JFK with the shooting scare. Just getting home safe after sorting through all the abandoned carry-on luggage, shoes, passports, to find ours after everyone fled for their lives to the Tarmac. Now I know what it's like to run for my life, and hopefully for the last time. Lucky it was just a scrapped up and bloody leg I'm left with, and that feeling of running not knowing what's behind you that could end your life. This violence now feels all too close to home. #jfk #nyc #guncontrol
Some passengers actually ran onto the tarmac to escape as all flights were grounded.
Hundreds of people stood outside the terminals after they were evacuated. The Van Wyck Expressway approaching the airport was shut down. Witnesses insist they heard gunshots.
“We heard shots,” one witness told CBS News.
“There was shooting, I heard shooting,” another witness told CBS News.
After searching for four hours, Port Authority police officers said they had found nothing.
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said in a statement: “Preliminary investigation does not indicate shots were fired at JFK. The terminal was evacuated out of an abundance of caution.”