Knott’s Closes Attraction that was Insensitive to People Who Care About Mental Health

By Steve Lopez


This article has been shared from it’s original source, the LA Times.


In anticipation of Halloween, the folks who run Knott’s Berry Farm did a lousy thing, and mental health advocates were outraged.

Then on Tuesday afternoon, park managers reversed course and shut down an attraction. But did they do so for the right reasons?

Here’s the story; you be the judge.

Ron Thomas went to Knott’s last week to check out FearVR, a controversial attraction at the theme park’s Scary Farm.

You remember Ron Thomas. He’s the guy who lost his son, Kelly, a little more than five years ago. The beating of the long-suffering 37-year-old by Fullerton police officers was sad testament to the critical shortage of services for those with debilitating mental illness, the lack of police training to deal with them, and the stigma around the disease.

Thomas still speaks up for his son and those like him, and against those who perpetrate stereotypes. He is an advocate, and he is still Kelly’s father, and in both capacities he went to see what FearVR was all about, knowing it had originally been called FearVR: 5150, a reference to the code for a psychiatric commitment.

But it was sold out.

“I couldn’t get in,” Thomas said. “There were so many people waiting to get in.”

Instead, he talked to people as they exited and asked them to describe FearVR. They told him they were strapped into seats as if being admitted to a hospital, and then were transported into a frightening scene of mayhem.

“Virtual reality-wise you’re led to believe you’re in some kind of institution,” Thomas said, and a patient “is on the loose … and she’s coming for you.”

That description jibes with the one Knott’s distributed before the opening.

“Enter the mysterious Meadowbrook Institute and witness the abnormal case of a terrifyingly unusual patient named Katie,” it said, describing the experience of being “strapped to a wheelchair” and coming “face-to-face with the deadly chaos unraveling around you.… Patients beware; it is easier to check in than out.”

The whole thing sounded wildly inappropriate to Thomas, whose son was in and out of mental facilities in his years-long struggle with schizophrenia.

“It’s so insensitive,” said Thomas, whose son called out to him for help as he was beaten by police.



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