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‘It’s safe,’ cops say of SC State Fair, where panic broke out, but no shooting occurred

The South Carolina State Fair closed early Saturday night and some patrons suffered bumps, scrapes and bruises amid panic caused by reports of gunfire.

“No shots were fired on the fairgrounds and, fortunately, no serious injuries occurred,” according to a statement from South Carolina State Fair general manager Nancy Smith.

The Richland County Sheriff’s Department also said there was not gunfire, tweeting “There has NOT been a shooting at the State Fair.

The fair closed around 11 p.m., about an hour earlier than normal for a Saturday. The incident occurred at about 9:45-10 p.m., Major Harry Polis said.

The fair statement attributed the commotion to “young adults running through the grounds in waves, which created a disruption and understandably anxiety for our patrons.”

“Kids were running around saying there was a shooting,” Capt. Maria Yturria said in an interview with The State.

“It caused mass chaos and significant safety issues for the public,” Polis said.

Video posted to social media showed streams of fair-goers running in different directions.

“They’re running all over everything,” and “What is happening,” were comments heard on a video taken of the scene from fair-goers on Ferris wheel.

Several people suffered scrapes and bruises, multiple sources told The State, with numerous people falling and some scaling fences to get away from the scene.

There are no reports of anyone being hospitalized because of an injury suffered in the melee, the sheriff’s department said. There were also no reports of property damage, Yturria said.

Among dozens of comments seen on Facebook regarding the scene and reports, several refuted what the sheriff’s department said about there being no gunfire:

“I was there with my family. We heard all the shots and as a hunting family, we KNOW what it sounds like. There was a shooting,” one person posted on Facebook. “We are at the ER right now with my six year old who got trampled.”

“I am a vendor there... shooting in front of one building then about 10 minutes later another shooting at the gate.”

“It was a horror movie kids was [sic] running and jumping gates.”

“There were definitely shots fired! My daughter and her friends were there! The cops are the ones that told them to run! And they got injured climbing a fence to escape the panic.”

“My daughter is 9 and she is traumatized. This was ridiculous. We were hiding under a semi truck!”

“Someone was shot at the BP gas station behind the fair, not in the fair and I know people called 911 when they heard the shots.”

In spite of reports of a possible shooting nearby, but outside of the fair grounds, Yturria said the sheriff’s department did not respond to any shootings Saturday night.

The Columbia Police Department, which has jurisdiction in the area outside of the fair grounds, also said no shootings were reported in the area Saturday night.

“No calls came in about shootings or shots fired,” Lt. Michael Blair said in an interview with The State. Columbia police officers assisted in bringing the situation under control, according to Blair.

“Once all the chaos began, we had officers assist to bring calm,” Blair said.

The incident caused a “disruption and ... anxiety for our patrons,” Smith said in the news release. “We will remain diligent in our efforts to maintain the highest customer safety standards that fair-goers have become accustomed to.”

That will not result in a greater law enforcement presence, according to Yturria.

“We already have a good presence there,” said Yturria, who said security already includes use of metal detectors and sheriff’s deputies patrolling the fence line to make sure no banned items have been thrown over to be sneaked inside. The sheriff’s department has been patrolling the fair “for many years, and we want people to know it is safe. We will make sure it is safe, and safe for people to come.”

Part of that will be continuing to enforce the fair’s youth policy.

Anyone under the age of 18 is required to be accompanied by a parent to enter the fair after 6 p.m., state fair officials said.

“They are checking IDs after 6 p.m. so that juveniles don’t come in without an adult,” Yturria said. “In the fair, if kids are congregating and can’t prove they’re over the age of 18, then law enforcement can take them back to missing persons and call for their parents to come. If they don’t, they will escort them out.”

The fair is celebrating its 150th year in operation. It opened Wednesday and continues through Oct. 20.

The fair is expected to operate under normal conditions and hours on Sunday, and for the rest of its 2019 run, Yturria said.

A 15-year-old was injured in a shooting after arguing with a 19-year-old at the 2015 South Carolina State Fair, according to The State.

That shooting was the first at the fair since 2004, The State reported. Then, three teens were injured after someone fired into a crowd in what law enforcement, without elaborating, said was a gang-related incident. One of the teens, Robert Lee Morris Jr., died several days later. He was 14.

Statement from South Carolina State Fair on incident

Here’s the full safety statement from South Carolina State Fair general manager Nancy Smith:

“Earlier tonight (Oct. 12) - The SC State Fair experienced young adults running through the grounds in waves, which created a disruption and understandably anxiety for our patrons.

“We have confirmed with several area law enforcement agencies that no shots were fired on the fairgrounds and, fortunately, no serious injuries occurred.

“Law enforcement was able to bring the situation under control in a timely manner and in an abundance of caution, we decided to close our Midway at 11 p.m.

“We are very grateful for the efforts of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and the South Carolina Highway Patrol. We will remain diligent in our efforts to maintain the highest customer safety standards that fair-goers have become accustomed to.

“As J.T. McLawhorn, President and CEO of the Columbia Urban League reminded us….The fair is much like a sanctuary. Violence has no place in a sanctuary and therefore violence has no place at the SC State Fair.

“As with all our other security measures, our youth admission policy remains in place, and we will continue to stringently enforce that policy.”

South Carolina State Fair Youth Entrance Policy

• All youth under the age of 18 are required to be accompanied by a parent (21 & older) to be admitted to the State Fair after 6:00 p.m.

• Anyone age 18 and over may be asked to show a valid driver’s license for proof of age to be admitted to the State Fair without parent after 6:00 p.m.

• Anyone age 18 and over without a valid driver’s license and not accompanied by a parent will not be admitted after 6:00 p.m.

• Persons wearing clothing or jewelry which the fair management deems as offensive or gang related will not be permitted to enter the fairgrounds.

• Exceptions and challenges to this policy will be handled at the discretion of the State Fair management.

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Director of Sports and Visuals at The State in Columbia, South Carolina. I’m a fan of my family, naps and the Boston Celtics. I’m part of the award-winning Sports staff that includes our work on GoGamecocks.
Noah Feit is a Real Time reporter with The State focused on breaking news, public safety and trending news. The award-winning journalist has worked for multiple newspapers since starting his career in 1999.
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