Editorial: Questions unresolved after weekend shooting

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, September 29, 2020

While Reaper’s Realm is not solely responsible for the shooting and unruly crowd at its business on Saturday, owners must face tough questions from the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office about operations leading up to and during that night.

In a statement posted online Sunday, Reaper’s Realm said the business is family-owned and that family, children and friends work here.

“This is not the kind of behavior that is welcomed at our haunt,” Reaper’s Realm said.

The business, which is much more than strictly a single, indoor haunted house, offered a full refund or an upgrade for those who purchased tickets before the incident occurred. It also pledged to make changes  that include beefed-up security — good news following an incident that was escalated by teenagers toting handguns at the site — a factor for which families of the teens bear the blame, not the business.

Thankfully, there were off-duty officers hired by the business when the incident occurred and the response was fast, likely seconds.

But the business has left unaddressed the quintessential factors behind the unruly crowd — that there were more than 1,000 people gathered in one place at all.

The crowd of people at Reaper’s Realm, many of whom were teenagers, openly conflicts with social distancing guidance and mandates about crowd sizes. The fact that “the shooting occurred in our upper parking lot and did not happen in our waiting area,” shouldn’t minimize any aspect of the incident. Whether it’s Reaper’s Realm or any business, staff have a duty to the public and the community’s health to ensure crowds to not become unruly on their property.

It’s unclear at this point whether Reaper’s Realm staff or off-duty officers attempted to mitigate things by asking teenagers to leave and come back another time and whether the request was followed. Children and teenagers dropped off by their parents likely needed to wait for a ride home.

Also unclear and equally important is how Reaper’s Realm was able to allow 1,000 people onto its property. Guidance issued Sept. 14 states, “For corn mazes or outdoor haunted trails, people cannot cluster in groups larger than the current mass gathering limit. Monitor to allow people in as others exit during peak times and ensure sufficient social distancing with at least 6-foot separation between groups other than those in their household.”

Was the business granted an exemption or able to separate 1,000 people so that there weren’t large clusters of more than 50 people at once?

The crowd size is most concerning because there’s still global pandemic going on and Rowan County is among the hardest hit in the state, ranking top five for its number of deaths.

Businesses remain shuttered and crowd sizes are limited for a reason — to slow the spread of COVID-19. Teenagers can spread the virus to others, including when those infected have no symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization.

While a teenager might not become seriously ill from COVID-19, he or she could conceivable spread it to an adult in regular contact with those at high risk or someone who has health issues likely to make a case more severe.

One additional item: it was strange to see the statement that “despite what is being reported, no one was injured or treatment by emergency services on our property.” At best, it’s misleading. The Rowan County Sheriff’s Office told media outlets that a person presented himself at a hospital in Cabarrus County, saying he had been shot in the foot at Reaper’s Realm and realized it only after he left.

What’s more, emergency services treated several people after fights that proceeded the shooting.

Is Reaper’s Realm disputing basic details of the Sheriff’s Office news release?

To be clear, Reaper’s Realm shouldn’t bear the entire burden for the incident, but there are many unanswered questions. We hope the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office will resolve those for the public as it continues its investigation.