Active shooter false alarm at Great America Theme Park

Mugging incident at Great America leads to rumors of shooter and causes mass hysteria

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Anushka De, News Editor

At California’s Great America Theme Park’s Halloween Haunt event on Saturday, Oct. 26, a mugging incident caused a panicked evacuation after a false notion that a shooter was on the premises. The event spread quickly both live and on social media.

Hundreds exited the park around 10:15 p.m. when an unknown number of perpetrators robbed a park guest, according to Santa Clara Police Department Public Information Officer Wahid Kazem, who arrived on the scene shortly after the incident occurred. Kazem stated that there was no evidence of firearms in the park at any point in time, but that the distress caused by the robbery itself led to rumors of an active shooter on the park grounds, which ultimately led to the “mass exodus.” 

According to Kazem, the weekend before Halloween tends to be the busiest for the Halloween Haunt event. Sophomore Seouen Kim describes how the confusion and fear she felt during the event were further exemplified by the masses of people present.

Seouen Kim
Sophomore Seouen Kim posts on her Snapchat seconds after safely exiting the park

“[My friends and I] saw a crowd of people running towards the exit, and we were really confused,” Kim said. “At first, I thought it was an event for Halloween Haunt, but somebody [yelled], ‘Shooter!’ and it was really bad so we started running with them. It was really chaotic, there were children that were separated from their parents and as we tried to get outside, we lost track of people.”

For senior Allison Wu, her own instincts, rather than those of others, led her out of the park. In spite of all the hysteria, Wu considered the most important thing to be getting out alive, regardless of whether or not the event was real. 

“My first reaction was, ‘I don’t care if this is real or not — I’m not going to take any chances. We’re getting out of here,’” Wu said. “As we were running, everyone was really confused, but we were all like, ‘We should get out of here.’”

Senior Nate Reyes, who was also present during the time of the incident Haunt, explains how the event helped him realize that there is a threat of gun violence, even in the Bay Area, which he considers relatively safe. 

“I think it’s just kind of eye opening because you could be literally anywhere, you could be here in Cupertino, which is safer,” Reyes said. “And it doesn’t really matter. You have to be on edge all the time, no matter where you are.”

You have to be on edge all the time, no matter where you are.”

— Nate Reyes

Kim explains that the current climate of the world greatly impacted her initial reaction to the rumors of a shooting. 

“With everything that you hear in the news, with shootings going on every day, it’s not [an] uncommon occurrence for [a shooting] to happen, especially the weekend before Halloween at Great America where there’s going to be a lot of people,” Kim said. “You really don’t think something like this is going to happen to you, but when it actually does happen, you kind of have to believe that it’s real. Because it’s a life and death situation.”

Kazem notes that several changes have been made within the Santa Clara Police Department in preparation for situations involving gun violence with the increase in shootings — such as the shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in July 2019. These changes include improving the threat assessment model, or the plan regarding the identification and countering of threats, for both Levi’s Stadium and Great America — two of the areas in Santa Clara that attract the most visitors –– and drafting a different staffing and security model for every event at Great America and Levi’s Stadium game. On the day of the incident at Great America, officers were able to arrive at the scene within minutes because of these changes. 

“We have a staffing model for the entire month of October for the Haunt festivities,” Kazem said. “We had met our staffing goal that night and we had additional officers on overtime inside the park, which actually allowed us to arrive at that scene where that robbery victim was a lot quicker because of the increased number of officers.” 

The Santa Clara Police Department used several social media platforms to reach out to visitors in an effort to quell some of the chaos caused by the false alarm.

In addition to the people physically shouting and running around, Kazem also attributes a lot of the confusion at Halloween Haunt to social media. He encourages people to use social media mindfully, understanding that not every user on social media has accurate information and that it is important to separate the truth from rumors. 

 

“My concern with events like this is in the day and age that we live in, with social media and with the ability for folks to have such quick access to so many other people is if there’s misinformation going out,” Kazem said. “I completely understand the public’s concerns with all that’s been going on about having a fear, and so I don’t fault them for this. But it is important that if the information is not correct, it did not go out that way, because it does cause a ripple effect of fear and hysteria beyond what’s going on, right in that area of Great America Park.

Overall, Kazem urges people to try their best to stay safe both at home and at public events by being aware of their surroundings. Kim, Reyes and Wu all believe this event has made them more on edge about their environment. For Kim, the disbelief she felt about being present during the event has increased her awareness about the threat that guns pose. She explains that she is thankful that the event was a false alarm, and that she couldn’t imagine what would’ve happened if it was real.

“It was honestly so horrible and I can’t imagine what people in real situations might have felt, because, to us, it was real at the moment,” Kim said. “It was real in the moment, and it was horrifying. And if I knew that people [had] actually died or gotten hurt, I think I would feel so bad.”