Investigators Probing Who Released Chlorine-Related Gas At Furry Convention
ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) — Authorities are investigating the release of a gas that sickened several hotel guests and forced thousands of people — many dressed as cartoon animals — to evacuate the building.
Although some participants at the Midwest FurFest convention thought the mass evacuation early Sunday was just part of the fun, investigators are treating it as a criminal matter.
Nineteen people who became nauseous or dizzy were treated at local hospitals. Within hours, emergency workers decontaminated the Hyatt Regency O'Hare and allowed people back inside.
The Rosemont Public Safety Department said someone apparently intentionally left a powder that appeared to contain chlorine in a ninth-floor hotel stairway, causing the gas to spread. On Monday, the department would only say that the investigation was continuing and declined further comment.
Organizers tried to reassure the participants that the evacuation would not overshadow the FurFest event, in which attendees celebrate animals that are anthropomorphic — meaning they've been given human characteristics — through art, literature and performance. Many of the costumed attendees refer to themselves as "furries."
"In walk all these people dressed like dogs and foxes," said Pieter Van Hiel, a 40-year-old technical writer from Hamilton, Canada, chuckling as he recalled the crowd being herded into the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, where a dog show was taking place over the weekend.
Kit McCreedy, a 28-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin, said he didn't think the incident would further disrupt Midwest FurFest, which was in its final day.
"I think we'll recover from this," said McCreedy, his fox tail swinging behind him as he headed back inside. "People are tired but they're still full of energy."
Others said they didn't know why anyone would try to upset the convention that includes dance contests and panel discussions on making the costumes. Some pointed out that the brightly colored outfits are made from fake fur and foam.
"Nobody uses real fur," said Frederic Cesbron, a 35-year-old forklift operator who flew to Chicago from his home in France. He attended the convention dressed in a fox outfit that he said is worth about $3,000.
"Everyone is from a different background," said Michael Lynch, a 25-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin, who, like his buddy, McCreedy, dressed as a fox. "Nobody judges anybody. It's nice to come to a place like that."
Or, as Van Hiel put it, "It's kind of weird, but it's not weird here."
Here are some answers to questions about the incident:
Just after midnight Sunday, attendees at FurFest at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare in Rosemont smelled chlorine spreading across the ninth floor. Emergency workers were called and the hotel was evacuated as attendees on the lower floors and in the lobby said they smelled chlorine too. Nineteen people who became dizzy or nauseous were taken to hospitals. There were no reports of serious health problems and the hospitals said people were treated and released. Crews decontaminated the building and people were allowed back inside after a few hours.
WHAT ARE INVESTIGATORS DOING?
The Rosemont Public Safety Department launched a criminal investigation after discovering what appeared to be powdered chlorine in a stairwell and quickly determining that whoever put it there most likely did so intentionally. The department has declined to answer questions about the incident.
HOW CAN CHLORINE MAKE PEOPLE SICK?
Chlorine is a vital chemical used in a range of products, including pharmaceuticals and disinfectants. Therese Cirone, vice president of health, environment and safety at The Chlorine Institute, says that while chlorine does not in itself exist as a powder, there are powdered products that contain it. If such a product comes in contact with water or even moisture in the air, it could create chlorine gas. Being exposed to chlorine for an extended period of time or at high concentrations could trigger dizziness or nausea, make breathing difficult or worse. But if concentrations are low, those problems go away when people leave the area and breathe fresh air.
WHAT IS THE FURFEST?
The annual convention draws thousands of "furries" who come together in the Chicago suburbs to celebrate furry fandom or art, literature and performance based around anthropomorphic animals, according to the FurFest website. Attendees said they came for fun, but also for the spiritual and artistic aspects of the convention. In addition to celebrating animal characters from movies, TV shows, comic books and video games, some create their own characters.
WHAT GOES ON AT THESE CONVENTIONS?
In many ways a FurFest is like other conventions. There are panel discussions about costume design and other cartoon and character-related presentations, as well as dances and performances. There are art and jewelry displays. Attendees go to dances and take part in dance contests. The festival also raises money for wildlife- and animal-related charities. Furries say they are not involved in a sexual fetish, though they are often asked about it. They have said fetish wear such as leashes is not acceptable at conventions and pointed out that they don't want to engage in activities that might damage their elaborate and expensive outfits.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
for more features.