Walmart officials apologized Thursday after a photo surfaced on social media depicting a back-to-school display inside one of the corporation’s stores that was filled with guns.
The photo began making the rounds on social media Wednesday morning. It displays a gun rack in a Walmart store with a back-to-school sign above it that reads “Own the school year like a hero.”
“What’s seen in this photograph would never be acceptable in our stores,” Walmart said in a statement, according to the New York Times. “We regret this situation and are looking into how it could have happened.”
Walmart officials confirmed Thursday that the displays were official Walmart marketing materials. On Friday, the company announced it had determined the cause of the display was “mischief.”
Walmart spokesman Charles Crowson told CNNMoney that employees had tracked down the cause of the display, and had determined that the incident was a prank. Crowson did not elaborate as to whether that meant the image was digitally altered, or whether a customer or employee had put up inappropriate materials over the gun rack.
On Thursday, the company incorrectly said that the store where the display had been put up was in Evansville, Indiana. Crowson later said the incident did not take place there, although he did not identify what store it did take place in, according to the Chicago Tribune.
School shooting incidents have been on the rise in the United States, and many social media commentators pointed out the dark implications of the sign placed above the gun rack, which features an AR-15 guide and hinted at events such as the Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook massacres.
Since 2000, there have been 17 school shootings in the U.S. with more than three victims, which is the requirement to meet the definition of a mass shooting according to U.S. Congress.
Walmart has been criticized heavily in the past several years for selling guns in stores. In 2006, the store cut back on gun sales due to low demand. However, Walmart began increasing its gun inventory in 2011, bringing them back to at least half of the company’s 3,600 stores, according to the Wall Street Journal.
In 2015, Walmart decided to end the sale of assault rifles in stores after facing public pressure to remove them from the shelves, according to the New York Times.