Three injured at Kennywood Park shooting

Three people were injured at Kennywood Park on Sat., September 24, when a teenager opened fire outside the "Musik Express" ride.

A 15-year-old boy and 39-year-old man were both shot in the leg, and another 15-year-old boy experienced a graze wound. The shooter opened fire with a handgun during the first day of Kennywood’s 20th annual Phantom Fall Fest, a Halloween-themed event hosted during the fall every year, 14 minutes before the park was closing for the night. The gunshots caused chaos as the crowd scrambled to escape, leading to additional injuries as park-goers were trampled attempting to get out of harm's way.

Kaity Wang (CIT '25), a Carnegie Mellon student who often frequents the park, was shocked to hear about the shooting, but upon reflection said she was “not surprised” to hear that such an incident had occurred. While she did use the metal detectors when entering the park each time she visited last spring, she noted “there is an optional bag check that I bypass most of the time even though I carry a small book bag each time I go.”

The security vulnerabilities of the park were obvious even to the most well-intentioned guests, as Wang furthers that the “outside fence of the park could also allow someone to slip weapons through the railings,” and reflected overall that she doesn’t “think Kennywood’s security is very strict and small flaws in their security system could cause instances like this.”

This comes even after Kennywood added a new security system over the summer. Jesse Bunch of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explained that Kennywood started using a weapons detection system by Evolv Technology last June. The company advertises itself as an alternative to metal detectors that “combines sensors with artificial intelligence to detect threats at an ‘unprecedented speed and volume,’ allowing venues to forgo bag checks and hire fewer security workers.” This was the system in effect during the shooting, although it’s not known whether the weapon entered the park through this area or through other areas, like the holes in the outer fence.

In an interview with Kennywood General Manager Mark Pauls by Julia Felton of TribLive, Pauls explained that this new system has worked in catching knives and guns of off-duty police officers, suggesting its effectiveness, and that the system experienced “no glitches" on Saturday. Pauls said that old metal detectors are soon being removed from the park to avoid guest confusion and increase confidence in the new Evolv system.

In the wake of this incident, Kennywood is enhancing security further. On Wednesday, officials announced plans to double the number of police officers contracted to the park, enforce a chaperone policy where guests under 18 must have an adult age 21 or older with them, improve sightlines by removing trees along the fenceline, add floodlights and security patrols along the perimeter as well as additional spot-checking of bags, implement new limits on bag size, and restrict facial coverings to those used for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The editorial board for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette commended officials for moving quickly after the shooting, stating that “for now, the additional security measures should suffice.”

Wang said she will return to the park but “would be more cautious of my surroundings in the future. ... I have confidence in their promise to update security because they see so many families each day. They have to make sure people keep coming so the only way to not have people worrying about their safety is by tightening their security after this incident.”

This new awareness of the potential risks of crowded areas is reflected by many Pittsburgh residents and Kennywood attendees who heard about the shooting. Local news networks interviewed the Secure Community Network, which provided tips on public shooting survival, highlighting the importance of reacting “with the intention of staying out of harm’s way until law enforcement arrives.” They recommended running, hiding, or fighting: get as far away from the threat as possible, or if that fails try to get as much cover for the three to seven minutes it takes for law enforcement to arrive on site. If that fails, in the event of a close-range encounter, SCN representatives recommend “120 seconds of uncontrolled violence and rage” targeting the hand holding the weapon, pulling on any instincts to stay alive. Ideally, there’s always a chance to get away, but sometimes we don’t have that choice.