CHEMICAL ATTACK AT MIDWEST FUR FEST 2014

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AMBER LOVE 09-DEC-2014 Yesterday it was reported by news agencies that convention attendees at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago had to be evacuated. The Chicago Tribune has a decent article and video about the attack. Yes, I’m calling it an attack because there are several sources indicating that the chlorine leak was actually intentional and meant to target to the attendees of Fur Fest. Fortunately, everyone was evacuated once alarms were sounded. [Update: I was told off the record that chlorine is an ingredient in the process of making meth and that it’s possible that is somehow the cause as opposed to a chemical attack on the con. Bearing that in mind, I edited the headline.]

A local CBS site stated that Fur Fest is the largest convention of its kind.

According to its website, 3,904 attended the event in 2013, “making it the second largest furry convention in the world.”

Is the story being covered by every mainstream outlet and not pop culture sites or sex positive blogs because it’s furries? Contributor to AmberUnmasked.com, Jesse Parrino has been asking that very question on Facebook and Twitter. Though not all news anchors are created equally. As seen on the FailBlog, there are some news anchors of mainstream channels that couldn’t hold it together when it was time for them to read the story. It makes me wonder why they rely on teleprompters and don’t actually review their news before they go live on the air. That’s not how I was taught to read from the AP Wire.

Whether we are “creeped out” by the practice of having sexual or nonsexual play in a furry costume, is irrelevant to the news. This happened to people who weren’t bothering anyone. They were having a gathering where they were supposed to be safe, just like comic conventions, Geeky Kink Event, Exxxotica, and leather cons. These were people that had carefully planned a zone that would be for them to be together with others of like mind away from the ridicule, bullying, and judgment. It plays into the assumption that adults wearing these costumes have something wrong with them rather seeing it like other cosplay deviations. It also presumes that it’s all about sex when that is not something you’d know just by looking at someone in a cute fox costume.

According to Popist:

FurFest organizers said in the statement that neither they nor the hotel would offer refunds because the incident was “an unforeseen criminal act.”

I’m more than willing to say I don’t “get it.” I don’t understand the furry subculture in terms of sexuality. I’ve seen people in furry mascot costumes at comic conventions and I love to have pictures of them. There are several top notch Rocket Raccoons out there in the scene now and they’re amazing. Pittsburgh always hosts a large furry gathering too. They’re people in costumes posing for pictures. What happens behind the closed doors, I don’t know and it’s not my business. But I think there’s a difference between cosplaying as a creature and sexual gratification through cosplaying as a creature and neither are wrong.

I have tremendous sympathy for the folks that like to dress in those costumes for a couple reasons. First, on a hot day, it’s got to be awful. Second, because I primarily wore my Wonder Woman costumes when I started with cosplay and I would get a lot of comments or snarky remarks about bondage that I did not want to hear. People thought they were funny, that it was harmless jokes. They don’t care that after the tenth lasso “tie me up” remark, I was ready to burst into tears. The comments that seem positive really aren’t. They were mocking me because I was dressed as Wonder Woman, one of the most identifiable female characters of all time and that character had plenty of early depictions of bondage hidden in plain site within the pages of books for kids. I would do the “tie me up” pose several times before being sick of it. If it’s a friend or someone I know I can joke with, I feel differently and may even initiate, because with those I feel safe with I don’t get the skeeved out skin crawling feeling. I can’t even begin to imagine what someone who is actually involved in a sexual subculture goes through. They have resilience I do not possess.

I reached out to the Chairman of Fur Fest for some answers. The website directs only to this plain text document and within the text was a link to a page about the evacuation but it resulted in a 404 Not Found error. But Mr. Murono was able to add these comments in addition to their press release:

Outside of initial first responders and assisting in the evacuation of our attendees and staff, Midwest Furfest relinquished complete control of the onsite emergency response and the subsequent criminal investigation. Midwest Furfest is forever grateful to the Hyatt Regency O’Hare for its amazing response and support throughout these trying times. In turn, we must thank the City of Rosemont and the brave emergency responders from throughout the surrounding community for their assistance.

Our staff has assisted authorities in their inquiries to our fullest capabilities and we have encouraged our attendees to aid us in this process. At this point in time we are unable to comment further as this matter is a pending investigation by the appropriate law enforcement agencies.

However, it is noteworthy that during this time of crisis we were aided by many staff members from other furry conventions throughout the world and attendees whom volunteered their services to aid in the evacuation process. Midwest Furfest is tremendously grateful for their assistance and this only illustrates how supportive the furry community is towards helping one another.

Though this unfortunate incident clearly impacted all of our attendees, Midwest Furfest was able to return to almost normal operations by Sunday morning. The furry community has been exceptionally supportive of our convention in the wake of this criminal act and our resilient staff and remarkably understanding and sympathetic attendees helped us finish the weekend on many positive notes:

  • – Our charity, Critter Camp Exotic Pet Sanctuary, was able to raise $11,000 by charitable donations from our attendees and an additional $20,000 was donated from Midwest Furry Fandom, Inc., our parent 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation. Part of our core mission is to raise money for animal focused charities in the Midwest.
  • – Our convention experienced our highest attendance to date, an estimated 4,600 attendees from around 15 different countries.
  • – Midwest Furfest was able to provide almost 300 hours of attendee inspired programming.
  • – We had 1,132 participants in our Fursuit Parade. Fursuits are animal themed costumes (loosely resembling mascot costumes) created by either the individual wearer or by commissioned artists/creators.

As stated previously we are unable to comment further on the incident this weekend and defer any additional questions to local law enforcement. As for your specific questions, I can answer three at this time:

* How were you treated by the Hyatt staff and the rescue workers?: The Hyatt Regency O’Hare has been completely supportive, before and after the event, and we are eternally grateful for the assistance of the City of Rosemont and emergency services from a multitude of local municipalities.

* Did you need to reschedule or cancel Fur Fest?: A few of the smaller programming events early on Sunday were canceled, but all other events and services continued on schedule and at full capacity. We have no plans on canceling Midwest Furfest for the future.

* At this time we have not designated approved photos from the event. If we do so in the future, I will be happy to forward them to you.

The official press release on behalf of the convention answers the basic questions:

Press Release Regarding The Chemical Incident At Midwest Furfest 2014

Midwest Furfest 2014 has published the following statement regarding the occurrences of December 7th (quoted in pertinent part):

At around 12:45 AM on Sunday, December 7, the Hyatt Regency O’Hare received a complaint of a chemical odor on the ninth floor. Following a 9-1-1 call, first responders determined that a container with a chlorine-containing chemical was broken there. At 1:10 AM the entire hotel was evacuated, first across Bryn Mawr Ave. in front of the Hyatt as per Rosemont Fire Department’s standard procedures, then when it became apparent that the wait would take longer the Stephens Convention Center was opened to provide warmth and shelter to our guests. A full HazMat response was called in at that time.

In the course of investigating the scene, the Rosemont Police Department determined that this was a criminal act and began investigating it as such. This delayed allowing our guests back into the hotel. Midwest FurFest is deeply thankful for the cooperation and patience shown during this time, and please know that everyone was working to get you back into the hotel as quickly as possible. At 4:21 AM the all-clear was given and we worked with the Hyatt staff to return all of our guests to the hotel in the quickest and safest manner possible.

Rosemont Public Safety has reported that nineteen people who complained of nausea and dizziness were transported to local hospitals. Because they were transported after the hotel (including Hyatt staff) was evacuated, we do not have any identification of these individuals. We have been informed by the Hyatt Regency O’Hare that some of those individuals have been released as of this morning.

(published on http://www.furfest.org/Evacuation Statement)

Outside of initial first responders and assisting in the evacuation of our attendees and staff, Midwest Furfest relinquished complete control of the onsite emergency response and the subsequent criminal investigation. Midwest Furfest is forever grateful to the Hyatt Regency O’Hare for its amazing response and support throughout these trying times. In turn, we must thank the City of Rosemont and the brave emergency responders from throughout the surrounding community for their assistance.

Our staff has assisted authorities in their inquiries to our fullest capabilities and we have encouraged our attendees to aid us in this process. At this point in time we are unable to comment further as this matter is a pending investigation by the appropriate law enforcement agencies.

However, it is noteworthy that during this time of crisis we were aided by many staff members from other furry conventions throughout the world and attendees whom volunteered their services to aid in the evacuation process. Midwest Furfest is tremendously grateful for their assistance and this only illustrates how supportive the furry community is towards helping one another.

Though this unfortunate incident clearly impacted all of our attendees, Midwest Furfest was able to return to almost normal operations by Sunday morning. The furry community has been exceptionally supportive of our convention in the wake of this criminal act and our resilient staff and remarkably understanding and sympathetic attendees helped us finish the weekend on many positive notes:

Our charity, Critter Camp Exotic Pet Sanctuary, was able to raise $11,000 by charitable donations from our attendees and an additional $20,000 was donated from Midwest Furry Fandom, Inc., our parent 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation. Part of our core mission is to raise money for animal focused charities in the Midwest.
Our convention experienced our highest attendance to date, an estimated 4,600 attendees from around 15 different countries.
Midwest Furfest was able to provide almost 300 hours of attendee inspired programming.
We had 1,132 participants in our Fursuit Parade. Fursuits are animal themed costumes (loosely resembling mascot costumes) created by either the individual wearer or by commissioned artists/creators.
As stated previously we are unable to comment further on the incident this weekend and defer any additional questions to local law enforcement. Any additional questions should be directed to press@furfest.org. Thank you for your inquiry and understanding.

Sincerely,
Toby Murono

2014 Midwest Furfest Chairman