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No shots fired in panic at Old Settlers, but woman was hurt in fall: Olathe police

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After false reports of a shooting started a panic Saturday night at the Johnson County Old Settlers fest, Olathe police said officers found no evidence of gunfire at the scene.

In a written statement released Sunday, the Olathe Police Department said reports of shots being fired were not substantiated. Police did, however, find a woman who was injured from a fall.

On social media, where talk of a shooting spread quickly Saturday night, the woman’s fall was linked by some attendees to the start of the panic. It was still unclear Sunday what exactly what led festivalgoers to believe a shooting was taking place.

The festival, which celebrates pioneer history in Johnson County and includes carnival rides and live music, was in full swing, well into its third scheduled day in downtown Olathe, when reports of gunfire and fleeing crowds surfaced online about 9:30 p.m.

Olathe North High School senior Aileen Reyes was at the festival with her mother, walking between the food vendors and the carnival rides, when “everyone started going crazy,” she said.

Dozens of people, mostly teenagers, she said, were running. Some were shouting that there was a shooter. Soon, the news spread further, by phone and on social media.

Those hearing the first reports didn’t have to reach back far in their memories to think of recent mass shootings in the United States: Odessa, Texas, on Aug. 31. Dayton, Ohio, on Aug. 4. El Paso, on Aug. 3.

At the festival, Reyes said her mother received a phone call from a family member relaying reports that there had been a shooting.

Reyes and her mother took cover under a table. The 17-year-old said she was still calm and thought others were overreacting. But the more she watched other people respond with fright, the more she grew worried.

After a while the mother and daughter, like many others, left.

BEHIND OUR REPORTING

How we did this story

Star reporters interviewed a police spokesman and people who were attending the Old Settlers festival when the panic broke out. On Sunday, the Olathe Police Department issued a written statement saying no evidence of a shooting was found but that a woman was injured in a fall.

Another teen, Mel Hipsher, 16, said she was with her friends getting tokens for games when she saw a group of kids push through the crowd, running.

“We didn’t think that much of it, and then we looked in the other direction where the Ferris wheel and the main part of Old Settlers was and everybody started running toward us,” Hipsher said.

The teen said she and her friends also started running. Amid the confusion, she heard someone yell about a shooter.

As she and her friends took off, they came across an 11-year-old who had been separated from her father in the chaos. The two were later reunited, Hipsher said.

“I’ve been going to Old Settlers since I was probably 5 years old,” Hipsher said. “I’ve never had anything like this happen.”

On Sunday, Olathe police said the first reports to them described a disturbance in the 100 block of North Kansas Avenue, near the middle of the festival.

Additionally, police said, there were reports of shots fired in the area. Police officers already assigned to the event were joined by patrol officers and responded to investigate.

Police did not find evidence of gunfire. They did find a woman who fell down and was hurt.

Police asked anyone with information to call the Olathe Police Department at 913-971-7500.

On Sunday, Reyes said the fear had an impact, even if it turned out to be a false alarm.

“For me personally, I don’t think I ever want to go to any large events with large crowds ever again,” she said. “Just with the fear that something like a shooting might happen.”

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Ian Cummings is the breaking news editor for The Kansas City Star, where he started as a reporter in 2015. He is a Kansas City native who graduated from the University of Kansas in 2012.
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