KCTV5Kansas City Zoo goers described Tuesday afternoon running for their lives after hundreds of teens were involved in fights inside the zoo and shots were fired in a zoo parking lot.
“It was very scary,” Liberty resident Jaimi Heckadon said. “All hell broke loose.”
As she and her group bolted for the exit, Heckadon said she heard people screaming about officers using pepper spray.
“The problem was these teenagers. None of them were escorted by an adult,” she said.
Extra security was already on hand, but dozens of Kansas City police officers responded to the zoo after the issues erupted about 3:30 p.m. The zoo closed at 4 p.m. as scheduled.
No serious injuries were reported because of the issues. Police say 10 arrests were made.
Marc Hoefer said the zoo and police response “was outstanding.” But he like many other zoo goers said Tuesday that they would not return for a free zoo day.
Zoo and park officials said they will immediately look at what changes need to be made in response to Tuesday’s problems.
Residents of Jackson and Clay counties could get into free to the zoo on Tuesday because of voter support for a zoo tax. The day coincided with mild weather and spring break for many area districts.
One zoo goer told KCTV5 that he saw 20 police cars. He said he was at the zoo with his toddler and felt unsafe. He said he saw multiple fights involving individuals and large groups break out inside the zoo and in the parking lots.
Heckadon, who is a season ticket holder, said she had gone to the zoo with her 9-year-old son, a friend and her friend’s 10-year-old son. They were in the Africa section about 3:30 p.m. headed toward the tram when they saw four teen girls get into an argument.
“They were screaming. They were yelling. One threw a punch,” she recalled. “Their boyfriends came around and ended up in it. Then there was about 20 kids.”
She said the closest worker sprinted to the area and yelled into her walkie talkie for help.
“That’s when all hell broke loose,” Heckadon said. “A stampede of teens came storming toward us. We had to shield the boys with our own bodies. It was that tense. Hundreds of teens were flying down there.”
As they were fleeing, they saw three Kansas City Police Department officers rushing to the melee.
She had parked on the grass near Starlight Theatre. She said as they were heading to their vehicle that they heard shots ring out. They got to the vehicle as quickly as they could and got ready to leave.
“My 9-year-old said, ‘We were just in a riot.’ And my friend and I were still speechless at that point,” Heckadon said.
She said she immediately thought of the issues at the Country Club Plaza where large groups of unsupervised teens and young adults have been involved in fights and shootings.
“There were hundreds of teens and they were coming in groups with no adult presence. It’s exactly like the Plaza,” Heckadon said. “They have no adult presence and it’s a free-for-all. The zoo is a place for families and small children.”
Marc Hoefer was at the zoo with his wife and 11- and 8-year-old children. An 11-year-old friend joined them.
“It was crowded. It was a different crowd. There was not a lot of courtesy. It was very packed and very tense,” he said. “There was a strong police presence. There were a lot of pockets of youth. You could see there was a lot of tension. I didn’t expect to walk about and see what I saw but I wasn’t surprised.”