It happened two weeks ago, two weeks ago yesterday. The scariest thing I’ve ever been through. The most fear I’ve ever had to feel in my life. It wasn’t uneventful for me, nor the people I was with or the hundreds of others that went through the same thing that day- like the media wants you to think. The media and Cedar Fair (Knotts Berry Farm) won’t hear my side of the story unless I tell it. I don’t want to make it easy for them to sweep it under the rug like they are trying to do.
So, here’s my side of the story in a letter. Share if you’d like to.
Hello Cedar Fair Executives, Investors, Board Members and Media,
I am reaching out to express my concerns about an incident that occurred at Knotts Berry Farm Park on 7/9/2021.
“One man was yelling over the live band while running past us ‘THERE’S A SHOOTER IN THE PARK! HE’S GOT A GUN!!! He’s got a gun! Run! Run! Run!!!’ People were running in terror; for their lives at this point.” This is a part of what I want to share with you- the terror we experienced at one of your parks that day.
But, before I do, I want to say that I have visited Knotts Berry Farm numerous times in my life and have always enjoyed my time there. I never had a reason to write a letter like this before, until now. My hope is that you will read this story and be compelled to make a change and acknowledge those of us that had to go through this. I’ll start at the beginning because I think it is a very crucial foundation of not feeling safe at your park that day.
Our group of 7 was very excited to finally take part in a fun family day to celebrate summer and Knotts 100th anniversary! We had planned our trip in advance and the children in our group, ages 4,4,7 & 10 were so excited!! My children had never been to Knotts and we were so thrilled to be able to go after a crazy year we had.
When we arrived at opening I was highly concerned about the lack in security and disorganization for bag checks and metal detectors. People were just walking right past bag checking and metal detecting straight into the park with no restriction. We stayed in line to get our bags checked and had our entire group metal detected, the young boy doing this even used the metal detector on our young children. We were a bit weary of the lack of professionalism, but dismissed it and went into the park after we were cleared to. When we entered the park, it was so crowded we couldn’t even walk together as a group. Although we had to make a reservation to arrive at the park that day- I’m realizing now that a reservation wasn’t honored or monitored due to the shear number of people in the park, even though your website clearly states a reservation is needed. Now, I’m not saying I want an empty park and I am fully aware of busy days, however this was beyond a normal busy day. This was over packed to the point of riding that fine line of hazardous to all who were in the park- later on in the night we would surely attest to this dangerous outcome.
We had three adults (including myself) and four children (two of which were mine) in our group. We waited in multiple lines for well over 2+hours with little kids. The waits were excessive due to the massive number of people allowed into the park! We waited over 2+ hours for the Log Ride just to get to the front and for them to shut down the ride. We waited patiently for another 20 minutes until we decided it was best for the kids to get out of line. During this time, we were witness to the employees trying to scramble to figure out what was wrong. Yelling across and through patrons. It was unorganized. There must have been many new employees there that day because we witnessed a lot of employees not knowing what to do when things broke down (3 rides broke down on us while we waited in those lines for 2+ hours each). We understand the hardship it is to find employees right now and even harder time to get them fully trained for situations that may arise. My concern is the knowing of how many employees are new (or understaffing issues) to your ticket count ratio. I say this not to complain about any employee in particular, in fact later in the evening when Hell broke loose (it was, in fact Hell for our group), there was two employees that did a fantastic job at helping us keep calm and lead us into a storage room where we hid from what we believed to be an active shooter.
While we weren’t having a best day so far because we were only able to actually ride 1 ride in almost 5 hours of being at the park already. We decided to try to make the best of it and had planned to stay until closing. We had purchased the all day dining plans and fed the kids to refuel them throughout the disappointments of waiting then not being able to ride the rides we had waited so long for.
As the day turned darker, we found ourselves near the stage of the live band that was playing for the Summer Nights event. We hung out for a bit and enjoyed snapping a few photo ops with the Summer Nights giant chair. We had heard there was going to be fireworks at 9 (it was around 8:15pm at this point) so we were going to head towards some games and then watch the fireworks show. As we walked towards the Bear-Y Tales area of the park we witnessed a few people running here and a few people running there. And then more people running. We had thought maybe one of the rollercoasters that was shut down all day might have reopened and people were headed to get in line. However, within the next few minutes we witnessed hundreds of people running towards us- just a sea of people! Screams were ringing out and people were frantic. We stopped one person to ask why they were running and they shouted that there was someone with a gun as they ran by us. Another person we stopped said they heard someone get shot over by the bathrooms. One man was yelling over the live band while running past us “THERE’S A SHOOTER IN THE PARK! HE’S GOT A GUN!!! HE’S GOT A GUN! RUN! RUN! RUN!!!”
People were running in terror; for their lives at this point. We quickly grabbed our children’s hands and told them that we were going to leave and it was time to head to the exit like everyone else. We stayed calm but moved as quickly as we could towards the front entrance of the park. Not knowing exactly what was happening we followed our gut instinct to get out of the park. There were abandoned freshly paid for meals sitting at empty tables and bags laying ownerless on the ground as we quickly passed by with hundreds of other people. We had parked in the south parking lot near the hotel and headed towards that direction. We were surrounded by people rushing, crying, screaming. As we quickly walked towards the parking lot, we saw shops, restaurants and stores locking their doors. I saw two young girls pounding on one of the businesses window crying and screaming to let them in. I picked up my youngest child and held my other child’s hand and started walking even faster.
Now, this is where the Hell I was talking about shows up.
We continued to quickly walk down the pathway in front of the shops together in our group. I remember telling my friend “If we get separated, let’s meet at the car” because there was so many people weaving and pushing around us. We passed the candy shop and the Market place emporium stores outside the walkway away from the main entrance. We were surrounded by multiple people who just wanted to leave like us. It seemed as though time had stopped when out of nowhere a group of people started running towards us screaming that the gunman was coming towards us, someone screamed out “HE’S AROUND THE CORNER!!! RUN!!!!”.
I don’t know how to explain it exactly- shear chaos and terror broke out in that moment. But, what I do know is that I reacted with my natural survival instincts with the information that I had at that time. There was no information, no security nor employees who knew what was happening. So your natural instinct is to react for your life- for your children’s lives.
I was holding my 4 year old in my arms and had my 10 year old by the hand running. I frantically lost his hand when people trampled by us forcing us to lose our grip. There was people crying and screaming everywhere. People running for their lives, like us. I heard my friend behind me yell “STOP! STOP! STOP, JUST STOP!!!”
I quickly turned around to notice she was trying to help a young girl off the ground who had been knocked over by the rushing crowds. She was yelling for people to stop literally running over the girl. In the midst of the chaos, we don’t even know if she had a parent with her. While that was happening, I couldn’t find my 10 year old son. We had lost our hands and he wasn’t near me anymore. As a mom in that moment, my heart stopped beating and sunk down into my gut. I couldn’t breathe. WHERE WAS HE!! I screamed his name louder and louder over the rushing screaming frantic crowd. The majority of the crowd dispersed and I could see my son down the path a bit. The look he had on his face was something no mom should have to see on their children’s face, ever. My heart broke into a million pieces. He was terrified and crying. “Mom! Mom! I couldn’t see you, I didn’t know where you were!”. I grabbed him the fastest I could and continued to run away from what we believed to be an active shooter. At this time, we were just running away. Running for our lives and our children’s lives. I saw in the distance a man holding open a business door for people to come into. I continued to look back at my friends and their children to make sure we were all together. I ran towards the door and held it open for my friends. The man kept saying “once I shut this door it’s locked! Hurry! Hurry! Get in!”. We all entered the store and were told to go towards the back where they have a storage room. We entered the storage room where I could see about 30 people crouched down hiding. They closed both doors and locked them. People continued to whisper “shhhhhh, be quiet”. They turned the lights off and asked us to be as quiet as we could. The kids were crying and didn’t know what was happening. All we could do was get down on the ground and hold them. People were grabbing items to defend themselves from the storage room. You could hear close quiet cries and whisper prayers. My mind was rushing and all I could do was pray for a layer of protection. “Lord, put your angels around us right now, protect us and guide us. Protect these children Lord”. A prayer I never thought I’d have to pray in a situation like that. A prayer no mom should have to pray.
Fear engulfed me in that moment and I just hugged and kissed my children. I grabbed my son and told him with tears rolling down my face that I was sorry for letting his hand go. It hurt to even say those words to him. If you are a parent, you never want to see that much fright in your children’s eyes.
I quickly grabbed my phone and started to text 911 so if something were to happen they would know our location and that we were hiding in a storage room locked down. 911 responded quickly and told me officers were on the scene and if we were safe where we were, to stay there. We did.
I then texted my husband “There’s an active shooter. We are held up in a locked room. Not a drill. Don’t call. I’ll text”.
How shitty is that? To have to text your spouse, who isn’t there with you, those words. I wanted to breakdown- but held myself together for my children who were looking to me for protection and safety.
About 20 minutes went by when one of the men standing by the door whispered that the gunman was outside the store and that we needed to be quiet. A man stood near us with his two babies in a stroller with tears rolling down his face griping a broom handle he had found in the storage room. There were two girls sitting near us shaking. My friend asked them if they knew where their parents were and they didn’t. They were so frightened. Employees were on their landlines trying to get help. It felt like a lifetime sitting there, not knowing what might happen.
After about 10 more minutes one of the employees had said that they got the “okay” from the police and we could go. They said we would wait for an escort to come before they unlocked the door to help us out. It wasn’t until I stood up that I noticed that there were rows and rows of people hiding, kneeling and laying down in that room, way more than the 30 I had thought.
We got up slowly and cautiously. We waited for others to leave the room first- we were in no hurry to leave first. We eventually funneled out of the storage room into a sea of people heading towards the parking lot again. They led us down through the employee entrance and out into the parking lot where we held our children tight and quickly walked to our car like we had tried to do before. We just kept telling the kids “It’s going to be okay, we’re just going to go to the car as fast as we can”. We constantly reassured them that everything was going to be fine when we didn’t even know that for a fact ourselves.
When we arrived that morning we made sure everyone knew that we were parked in Sally 2, so when we finally saw the sign for Sally 2, there was a little relief. We quickly loaded the children into the car and left the parking lot into a line of cars trying to do the same.
We left just in time, because there was a fire I hear that shut down the freeway just after we left.
That day was something made up from a nightmare. After it all happened and we were heading home, I just kept thinking “what just happened?” I couldn’t even process it yet because I had little children that were watching me and looking to me for strength and to keep them safe.
That’s my job. As their mom, it’s my job to keep them safe and away from harm. To protect their hearts and mental health. It’s my job. I take that job seriously. So when something happens like this, I find it painful and take it personal.
There’s never been more anxiety I have ever felt in my entire life. Thinking about those cries and screams, they make you a different person. The depression is sinking in and I find it near impossible to even show a fake smile.
I hold my children more tighter today and thank the Lord for putting his angels around us that day.
I’m telling you my side of the story that day because I feel like it’s being dismissed.
The article reads:
“At least 1 wounded in drive-by shooting outside Knott’s Berry Farm”
But that’s not what I experienced. Shots were fired from the parking lot into the park area where we stood nearby listening to music, which caused a wave of mayhem to unfold. I don’t have to tell you about it, simply search videos of people who were recording from inside the park and you’ll bear witness to the cries and screams. Or better yet, pull up your security footage from that night- I bet you’ll see so many people running in terror, I bet you’ll see me and my children running in terror.
The dismissal of what people actually went through inside the park that night is disrespectful and doesn’t sit well with me. The people like me, my friends, other parents, kids who were alone and moms and dads who were separated from their children deserve acknowledgment. I wasn’t the only one to experience the horror that night. There were hundreds of people, especially moms like me, experiencing haunting trauma and still experiencing the trauma from that day- I know I am.
Knotts Berry Farm needs to be held accountable for their lack of communication, organization and security. I hope that there will be accountability, because if not- how can we as the human race ever feel safe at a place where we are supposed to smile, laugh and make happy memories? On your Cedar Fairs website you claim to “Take Fun Seriously” and to “Make people happy by providing fun, immersive and memorable experiences”. I feel you are not living up to this claim by dismissing the people whose lives were changed that day.
Although you cannot control what happens outside your gates, you can however acknowledge the lack of security and the lack of discourse about what happened inside your gates that day.
In closing, I would like to ask what plan does Knotts Berry Farm and Cedar Fair have to make this situation right? What kind of comfort can you provide for the families who experienced this and continue to deal with the impacts it has caused?
Thank you for your time in reading my letter and timely response. My hope is that you can have a glimpse of the fear we felt that day and hopefully make it right.
April M. Reid
One thought on “An open letter to Knotts Berry Farm”
I am horrified to hear what happened to you and your family. I am a mom and your instincts were right on. Knotts Berry farm should be accounted for all of the lack of support security and everything else.