FAIR HAVEN — A local charity haunted house attraction allegedly included a school-based situation involving a student with a firearm as part of its theatrical horror-themed performances. The performance named Fair Haven Union High School and the town of Parkland, Florida, while also identifying the main character in the performance as “Jake.”
Nightmare Vermont, a self-proclaimed charity horror theatrical performance group active since 2004, decided to open 2019's performances at the Champlain Valley Exposition with an alien invasion at a homecoming celebration, resulting in a “lockdown,” according to Slate Valley Unified Union School District Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell, who said a member of the district attended the show over the weekend.
“The first part of it was a high school hallway with lockers,” Olsen-Farrell said in an interview on Tuesday. “(The district member) said a student took a firearm out of a locker.”
The district member was clearly emotionally distraught after witnessing the performance, said Olsen-Farrell, who contacted Nightmare Vermont's director, Jana Beagley.
The Herald contacted Beagley through the group's Facebook page and she responded Tuesday afternoon, saying “all references to current events and any plotlines involving students and weapons have been cut from the show entirely.”
“While our intended message was against school violence, we listened to our patrons and cut all references and plotlines entirely out of respect for the feedback we received,” Beagley said in a message.
The names of the schools, communities, and “Jake” were dropped from the performance Tuesday afternoon, the latter due to its similarity to another name still resonating through Vermont's educational communities, according to portions of emails from Beagley shared in a news release from the school district.
“I am sure I cannot imagine the suffering of your community or the resentment for the fear that has hit so close to home for you,” said Beagley in a prepared response to Olsen-Farrell. “I hate that this fear is part of our lives now, and I wanted to say something against it.”
Jack Sawyer was arrested in 2018 for allegedly planning to bring a firearm to Fair Haven Union High School and commit mass harm.
Beagley also wrote to Olsen-Farrell in an email that was partially provided: “Also out of respect, we have cut any reference to current events and apologize that those references ever happened in our show.”
“Other people have come forward and sent messages to the group,” Olson-Farrell said on Tuesday. “There are definitely people out there who are upset by this.”
Olsen-Farrell said the mention of the school and the name of the main character served to bring up the emotion of the events that transpired over the past year and a half, which resulted in numerous security upgrades and community healing.
“(We don't) understand how someone could use even a thinly-veiled depiction of school violence in a theatrical performance to raise money ... even if it's for charity. ... It seems unfathomable to us, and we're really disappointed in their decision,” Olsen-Farrell said earlier on Tuesday, prior the group's response to the Herald.
This article has been updated with a more recent statement from Nightmare Vermont.