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Thursday, November 30, 2023
Nov. 30, 2023

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Disappointed, overwhelmed concertgoers leave Gorge after Saturday shooting leaves 2 dead, 3 injured


GEORGE — Electronic dance music fans left the Gorge Amphitheatre on Sunday expressing disappointment and disbelief after a gunman shot and killed two people before being taken into custody Saturday evening.

The incident in an overflow camping ground at the seasonal outdoor music venue also injured three people, including the shooter. Authorities on Sunday did not provide any further details on a motive or identify the shooter or those wounded and killed, as the promoter of the weekend Beyond Wonderland show announced the second day of music was canceled. An independent agency was called in to investigate an “officer-involved shooting,” but authorities did not provide further details.

Concertgoers described the shooting as “heartbreaking” and “disappointing” Sunday morning at one of the camp areas.

“I would be lying if I said that I could never imagine something like that happening,” said Parker Hutchinson, a concert attendee. “That’s been in the back of my head every time I’m here, that someone would do that.”

Some concertgoers knew about the shooting right away, while others found out Sunday. Some said they learned of the shooting from friends calling or texting whether they were OK.

Most people appeared to be treating Sunday morning like any other after a night of music and dancing. They were lounging in chairs and chatting with friends, cooking food and packing up their tents and belongings to head home.

Cars trickled out of the campground gates after learning Sunday’s festivities were canceled.

The shooting happened around 8:25 p.m., according to Kyle Foreman, public information officer at the Grant County Sheriff’s Office. Foreman said at a news conference late Saturday that the shooter fired randomly into a crowd before he was taken into custody by law enforcement.

The shooter was one of the three people injured, Foreman said. He said the identity of the shooter will be released at a later time.

While law enforcement did not name victims or the shooter, the Grant County Sheriff’s Office did say Sunday they’d notified families of all the victims.

The North Central Washington Special Investigations Unit was called in to investigate the incident, according to an update from the Grant County Sheriff’s Office. The unit is called in when a local law enforcement officer uses their weapon, and the agency includes personnel from the Washington State Patrol, the police departments of Wenatchee and East Wenatchee, and the sheriff’s offices of Douglas and Chelan counties.

“We had officers that were part of the response last night who were considered witnesses,” Foreman said Sunday. “So, as an agency that is directly involved in the incident, we can’t say any more.”

When asked by reporters Saturday, Foreman did not provide an age range on the victims, did not disclose what type of weapon(s) the shooter used and did not know the motive of the shooter.

Beyond Wonderland was playing Saturday night at the amphitheatre several hundred yards from where the shooting happened, Foreman said. The concert continued on as planned Saturday but was halted Sunday.

The account @BeyondWlandPNW wrote on Twitter on Saturday night to avoid the “Gorge Gate H campgrounds area” because it was closed “due to an incident that has been handled by local authorities.”

The sheriff’s office announced around 8:45 p.m. an “active shooter” was at the amphitheatre before saying about 30 minutes later the shooter was in custody.

The sheriff’s office initially advised those at the amphitheatre to seek cover, run, hide or fight the suspect.

Kasey Johnson, of Sandpoint, said he and his two friends learned of the shooting shortly after it happened while standing in a line at the venue. He said it was “overwhelming.”

Johnson said he and his friends wanted to leave, but staff did not allow attendees to exit for a period of time after the shooting. One of Johnson’s friends said they considered hiding in a portable restroom if needed.

Attendees said no announcement about the shooting was made to the crowd Saturday night. Still, Johnson said they stayed for the rest of the concert after learning the shooter had been taken into custody.

Johnson said he’s attended raves for 10 years, but this was his last one because he feared another shooter.

“It’s really sad because we’re all trying to come here just to have fun,” Johnson said.

The friend group was likely going to leave the campground Sunday after learning of the cancellation.

Meanwhile, Caleb Hadley, who came to the Gorge from Montana with his wife, said they did not hear about the shooting until around 9 a.m. Sunday , about 12 hours after shots were fired.

“People come out here for what I thought was going to be a nice, peace-loving weekend,” Hadley said. “Kinda just surprised that that would happen out here.”

Like most campers, the couple planned to stay until Monday, but Sunday’s cancellation forced them to reconsider. Hadley said he preferred to hang out at the campground.

Darcie Olive and her fiancé, Antonio Thinnes, said they were also at the amphitheatre when gunfire broke out, but they did not learn of the shooting until around 7 a.m. Sunday because they were enjoying the concert.

Thinnes said there was no sign of a shooting based on their surroundings at the amphitheatre.

“If you were inside (the amphitheatre), everything just seemed fine,” Thinnes said.

The Tacoma couple were packing up to drive home Sunday morning, a day earlier than they wanted. Thinnes said they bought the concert tickets immediately after they became available and had been looking forward to the music weekend for months.

“There is disappointment there, but I mean, I understand it,” Thinnes said.

Beverley Simonton, of Seattle, called the shooting “heartbreaking.”

She said she and her partner were heading to their campground from the amphitheatre Saturday night when they noticed a slew of police cars heading into the campgrounds. A helicopter was circling above.

She said an old friend called her on Facebook four times and messaged her to ask whether she was OK.

Jeremy Sutton, of Roseburg, Oregon, said he was “distraught” when he heard the news Saturday night inside the amphitheatre.

“I just have no clue why anybody would want to be like, ‘Hey, this is a crazy, amazing place. Let’s go ruin everything,’ “ Sutton said.

Sutton said he and his friends use the “buddy system” and constantly update one another, so they knew everyone was safe.

“Besides that, I was just incredibly depressed that this happened,” Sutton said.

He said he and some of his friends stayed at the amphitheatre for the rest of the concert, which lasted until 1:30 a.m. Sunday.

Sutton said he did not notice a panic at the amphitheatre after the shooting, in part because many did not know exactly what was happening. However, some people left around 10 p.m., he said.

Sutton said he woke up Sunday to news the second day of the concert was canceled.

He and his friends were still discussing whether to leave the campground Sunday; they would likely head home.

“It’s not going to keep me from coming next year. That’s for sure,” Sutton said.

Festivals and concerts at the Gorge Amphitheatre have previously been settings for excessive drug use and unlawful gun possession, though most concerts at the Gorge have occurred without problems.

Last summer, authorities arrested a man after festivalgoers at the Bass Canyon concert series reported seeing him with a pistol outside the venue. Though he never made it inside the venue, he reportedly had two pistols: one in a holster outside his clothes and another concealed in his waistband. After investigations, authorities said they don’t think he intended to execute a mass shooting.

In 2013, a Paradiso Festival concertgoer died after using methamphetamine and becoming dehydrated, according to media reports. The weekendlong event ushered 70 people to Quincy Valley Medical Center. The hospital treated 40-50 drug- and alcohol-related problems that weekend, a hospital spokesperson told the Wenatchee World in 2013.

Police at the time attributed use of the illegal party drug molly, also known as MDMA or ecstasy, to the sharp increase in hospital admissions. Authorities arrested 23 people from the concert that year for various charges, according to a news release from the Grant County Sheriff’s Office.

Two more deaths were reported in 2016, with one tied to drug use.

The next scheduled event at the venue on the banks of the Columbia River is scheduled for July 7-8, with a performance by the psychedelic rock group Dead & Company, which includes surviving members of the group the Grateful Dead.

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