3 Spectators Shot During Wild West Reenactment

Rapid City Journal: Authorities are still trying to determine who is responsible for shooting and injuring three tourists Friday night at a staged shootout in downtown Hill City, the lead investigator said Monday. Lt. Marty Graves of the Pennington County Sheriff's Office said it still is unclear what went wrong at the event, or even if the re-enactors' guns were involved in the incident that will likely bring an end to a regular tourist event in the town 25 miles southwest of Rapid City.

"At this point in time, we don't know what happened out there in Hill City," Graves said Monday. "We don't know if it's a criminal investigation. What we do know is that those victims were hit with some type of projectile. We haven't been able to determine what type of projectiles those are at this time."

Graves said the re-enactors' firearms have been collected as evidence and will be sent to a forensic laboratory to determine if rounds had been fired through them or determine if there was some type of malfunction. Sheriff's officials received assistance from the South Dakota Highway Patrol in mapping the scene and are working on reconstructing the events, Graves said.

John Ellis, a victim of the shooting, said Sunday that a surgeon removed bone and lead fragments from his elbow Friday night. Graves, however, said investigators have not verified that lead fragments were found during that operation. "We've been evaluating the evidence we've got," Graves said. "There's a lot of speculation and a lot of rumor out there, but we base our conclusions on facts, not fiction based on what people assume happened."

Dakota Wild Bunch re-enactors performed in the town four times a week during the summer season for crowds that drew as many as 160 people. The president of the Hill City Chamber of Commerce has indicated the shootouts will not continue, and Saturday's shootout was canceled.

Graves said although investigators haven't ruled out the possibility that someone other than the re-enactors could have been involved, there is "nothing to indicate there was a third person outside of this." In addition to the physical evidence, investigators have been analyzing video footage of the shootout recorded by other tourists. Graves said the investigation could take some time.

"This absolutely is a top priority," he said. "We're as concerned as everyone else in this, and it's my understanding that these events have been suspended ... but for me to make a conclusion 48 hours into this would be a miscalculation on my part."

Graves said the incident has received international attention and that his office has been flooded with media inquiries. Preliminary questions about liability in the incident are contingent on the sheriff's investigation, Hill City Administrator Brett McMacken said.

The city has a written agreement with the Hill City Area Chamber of Commerce, which works with the Dakota Wild Bunch Reinactors to put on the mock battles to raise money for charity. Details of the agreement were not made available Monday. "The chamber has said the Wild West shootout won't occur until everything's resolved, and then it'll be reassessed," McMacken said. "I'm sure the city will have its own opinion, but we need to get the report from the sheriff's office."

Dickie Stanley, national safety officer for the Reenactors Guild of America, based in Texas, said the incident -- regardless of how it happened -- "can have a negative effect on anybody who is involved in historical re-enactments."

"Although some folks will say we are playing with guns, for some of us we, feel that we use guns to teach history, and it is simply one of the tools of the trade," Stanley wrote in an email. "Not taking this seriously is what creates dangerous situations such as this, and usually, it is human error or a relaxed environment that lets things like this happen."

Stanley said the guild regularly reviews safety precautions and takes steps to that assure information is available to all interested parties, including producing safety videos that are posted online.


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