FORT MILL, S.C. — Carowinds announced a new chaperone policy Tuesday following an incident Saturday that set off a panic among guests.
The new policy requires all guests under the age of 17 to be accompanied by a chaperone who is at least 21 years old during SCarowinds hours.
"We are implementing additional security protocols, including a new chaperone policy that will be introduced tomorrow," a spokesperson for the amusement park said Monday in a released statement.
New Carowinds chaperone policy
- A chaperone policy will be implemented for all SCarowinds events at Carowinds. Under the policy, all general park guests who are aged 17 years old or younger must be accompanied by a chaperone who is at least 21 years old to be admitted to the park during SCarowinds event hours. The chaperone must present valid photo identification with a date of birth at ticket entry. One chaperone may accompany no more than four guests aged 17 years old or younger per day.
- Chaperones must accompany their party during entry, remain inside the park during their visit, and be available by phone throughout the visit. Guests 17 years old or younger who are found inside the park unaccompanied by a chaperone will be subject to removal from the park.
- As a reminder, guests may not bring bags of any kind, including purses, backpacks, or diaper bags, into the park during SCarowinds. Guests who require health accommodations may bring a bag no larger than 4.5” x 6.5” containing only medically necessary items into the park. All bags will be searched prior to entry.
- No re-entry is permitted into SCarowinds.
- The bag policy, chaperone policy, and no re-entry policy start at 7:00 p.m., during SCarowinds event hours.
“Any step forward is a step in the right direction. We have to get control of the situation for the safety of our families,” said Polo Sandlin, a season pass holder.
“I think a chaperone for a certain age is necessary nowadays. I think a parent should be just as interested in what their children are doing as Carowinds is and if they are not, shame on them,” said Ted Miller.
Park officials closed Carowinds at 11 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17, due to what they described as "unruly behavior by several groups of minors." Park leaders said the actions of these groups led to rumors that a serious threat was present inside.
What actually happened in the park is still not immediately clear but guests who spoke to WCNC Charlotte described chaotic crowds.
“We were walking normally then out of nowhere a massive crowd of probably like, between 50 and 100 people running towards us screaming," Bethany Bloomer said. "So, we ducked over and got out of the way. It was chaotic."
"We saw people running from a part of the park and screaming their heads off saying there’s a shooter," Rylan Scott said. "Imagine a big crowd times two. Everyone in the park was trying to evacuate and get to the exits quick."
Law enforcement responded to the park to help evacuate guests. Drivers experienced extensive traffic jams arriving and departing the parking lots.
CMPD said about 30 officers combed through the park and did not find any shell casings anywhere or any signs of a shooting.
Carowinds also confirmed there was no threat to guests or a shooting.
On Saturday night, the amusement park -- which sits on the state line between Charlotte, North Carolina, and Fort Mill, South Carolina -- was hosting its Halloween-themed SCarowinds festivities.
At the time, the park encouraged but did not require chaperones.
Johnny Dunn who has about 30 years of security management experience at Six Flags said what worked for them was increasing and having a clear presence of police and trained security.
“A lot of these groups create chaos by just simply a large group of people 50 to 75 kids running as a group through the park and they knock people over,” Dunn said. "I mean, it's, it's kind of like a fad and this is pretty consistent in the amusement park business along all these parks.”
Kind of like the scene you saw at Carowinds Saturday night. There were also multiple fights at the amusement park.
Dunn said their answer was adding more security.
“We budgeted and hired local law enforcement officers to be at the park every single day," Dunn explained. "Now, that was a cost, the management was willing to pay that cost. And we wanted uniformed officers."
Dunn said they also had undercover officers in plain clothes and security was just as tight in its parking lot.
“We have a tower with security in it. We had police officers, usually in vehicles," he shared. "Then in the summertime, between May and August, we had patrols, uniformed officers, actually on bicycles.”
Dunn said a loudspeaker is also a tool that could have been used to give out directions.
“We had three to four recordings. They were pre-recorded for certain incidences that might arise or may not arise, but you have to have that,” Dunn said. “Like the park is closing early today. Please follow the directions by your local staff and security on how to exit the park.”
When there are events bringing in large crowds like Scarowinds Dunn said to beef up security.
“The key is visibility and letting the public know, we're here. If there are any issues, we're going to resolve it quickly," Dunn said. " You want to be in a safe, controllable environment.”