Halloween festival to benefit local fire departments suffers major setback during opening weekend

- A fright fest in Columbia is dealing with a nightmare of its own. The organizers of CarnEVIL were hoping to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for first responders in the D.C. region.

The Halloween event has a haunted trail in the woods, carnival games, food and even live music on weekend nights. The fright festival is in its third year, but this is the first time it is being held at Merriweather Park next to the popular pavilion.

However on opening night on Friday the 13th, everything went wrong.

“Everything had started and we suddenly lost power,” said CarnEVIL director Gene Ryan.

He said a squirrel was to blame and it got to the power supply.

“It was all burned up and it had crawled up in I guess to stay warm or whatever squirrels do and it had chewed through the lines,” said Ryan.

Without power or Wi-Fi, the event couldn't process tickets, so they let people in for free. But then things turned ugly. There were concerns about safety and some guests began raiding the bar area.

“They were starting to push and they were claiming they didn’t get bracelets,” Ryan said. “Because we weren’t able to communicate with each other, we were running back and forth through the woods. It just became too much … With the inability to effectively communicate through a 16-acre property, it became dangerous.”

CarnEVIL closed for the entire weekend and are now sorting through hundreds of angry emails and social media posts. A few threatened legal action and even violence after they bought tickets that cost $37.

“It probably won’t be profitable this year unfortunately because of what we had to do,” said Ryan.

The people working to sort this all out are volunteers. The proceeds from this event was going to be used for search and rescue dogs and other equipment to help fire departments in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

Ryan is asking that those looking for a refund to be patient. And if you still want to use your ticket, you can come any day at any time and it will be honored. The park is open Thursday through Sunday for the next three weekends.

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