Attendees at the Midwest FurFest, an annual gathering that “celebrate[s] furry fandom, that is, art, literature, and performance based around anthropomorphic animals,” according to the web site, were evacuated along with other guests at a Hyatt hotel in Rosemont, Illinois on Sunday.
Conventiongoers were confused as to why they were being herded out of the building, at first, as those who subscribe to that lifestyle are often the subject of ridicule and harassment. One attendee, Thomas Zell, explained that “A lot of people thought this was just someone pulling the fire alarm,” as people will often trigger the fire alarm to force costumed individuals to stand outside. “But it was serious this time.”
“It was shocking,” said Morgan Smejkal, who was dressed as a red panda. Chris Delaney, Smejkal’s partner, described the smell as “pungent,” like “when you walk into a pool.”
In the early hours of Sunday morning, first responders investigated reports of a noxious odor on the ninth floor of the hotel, according to the Chicago Tribune. Investigators discovered a high concentration of chlorine gas in the air on the floor.
Nineteen people were transported to local hospitals after complaining of nausea, dizziness, and other issues that arose from the release of the gas. The building was temporarily evacuated. HAZMAT technicians worked quickly to decontaminate the area in about two hours as convention attendees stood outside in their costumes.
The techs discovered powdered chlorine on a ninth floor stairwell, which police indicate “suggests an intentional act.”
“This incident is being treated as a criminal matter and is under investigation,” the Rosemont Police Department said in a statement.
Despite the difficulties, the show must go on, as they say. Midwest FurFest announced that they would still provide ” the best possible convention that we can, despite the trying circumstances,” noting that organizers are “deeply thankful for the cooperation and patience shown during this time.”
Police are still searching for the attacker.
Watch a report on the attack below, via ABC7: