What I Discovered When I Accidentally Broke an International News Story at Disneyland

With all the craziness all over the world, some people might wonder if Disneyland is safe since it’s a major tourist destination. If anything happens regarding safety at Disneyland, it’s a big deal. I discovered that personally on May 28, 2013, when I accidentally broke an international news story while I was at Disneyland working on a screenplay.

I Heard A Boom

In Toontown, I was sitting at a table in the City Hall where I often went to write screenplays. All of a sudden, I heard a very loud gunshot–a strange sound to hear in that area of the park. I stopped what I was doing and felt my skin tingle. I looked up from my computer, wondering if anyone else noticed. People nearby also stopped doing and were looking around. There was a nervousness in the air. I exchanged glances with several people and it became obvious that none of us knew what had happened. After a few moments, people hurried onward.

Security Appeared

This tweet started a news cycle.

Security personnel soon appeared and asked us to leave the area. Before I slide my computer into my bag, I tweeted, “Something went BOOM in Toontown at Disneyland and now they’re evacuating.” There was a tenseness as employees ushered us from the area while security personnel formed a wall between us and a set of trashcans next to the parked trolley. Taking a few pictures of the fleeing crowds, I posted them on my Twitter account. I had been to Disneyland hundreds of times but had never experienced something like that.

I relocated to another one of my favorite writing spots in Frontierland and returned to my writing, wondering what had happened.

My Tweet Became News

My phone started buzzing. I picked it up and noticed I had several messages on my Twitter account. Then I started getting calls from NBC, CBS, and ABC news who had tracked down my phone number.

One of the TV news producer asked, “We’re not allowed to come into the park but can you meet us outside of the entrance to give us a statement?”

“Is this really a big deal?” I asked.

“Any news at Disneyland is a big deal.”

I said, “no” because I had work to do. Then the calls kept coming in and I noticed others had tweeted about the boom in Toontown. A radio station sent me a message and asked if they could interview me live on air. I agreed, since I could do the interview and keep writing. There was something strange about sitting in the midst of churro-eating tourists wearing Mickey ears while I was doing a live interview about an incident that happened at the park.

After the interview, I got even more calls and messages. A news organization in Russia asked if they could use my pictures. Then CNN sent me a message asking me to get in touch with them.

Finally, I agreed to step out of the park to talk to the news stations. I packed my computer and hurried past the throngs of people watching the parade marching down Main Street. Crossing the street, I found several news trucks lined up in front of the hotels. I told them who I was and each station interviewed me about what I experienced in Toontown.

News Traveled

Rachel Maddow broke the news on MSNBC where she described it as a “dry ice explosion.”

Cast Members block the entrance to Disneyland while police investigate.

That night, I returned home and flipped through the stations to see if they had discovered any more information. It was strange to see my face on NBC.

The Los Angeles Times ran the picture I took of people evacuating Toon Town as well as my Twitter conversations with people, and that night I agreed to allow CNN to publish the pictures I took at the scene. Thousands of news sites and TV stations ran the story all over the world.

The next day, the news revealed that the gunshot sound was caused by an “improvised explosive device” created by a Disney employee, Christian Barnes. He was 22 years old and was held on a $1 million bond for creating a “dry ice bomb.” He was a vendor who put dry ice into a bottle filled with liquid, which he placed into a trash can where it exploded.

The Verdict Was In

Barnes pleaded not guilty to possession of a destructive device in a public space. Since no one was injured, the judge allowed him to plead guilty to one misdemeanor count of possession of a destructive device. The judged sentenced Barnes to three years’ probation, 36 days in jail and 100 hours of community service. The judge also ordered Barnes to stay away from Disneyland.

Given the way his dad talked about his son, I wonder if Barnes was experimenting or thought of it more as a prank that went terribly, terribly wrong. Though, he never made a statement supporting either theory.

Disneyland Changed Their Security

Since that time, Disneyland has dramatically increased its security procedures at the park. Now you can’t get anywhere near the Disneyland gates without going through TSA-style security.

In the over 400 days I’ve been to Disneyland, the day of the “dry ice bomb” was one of the most surreal.  I’m glad Disneyland took it seriously. Through my experience with all of this, I discovered the great lengths Disneyland will go through to protect the people who visit the park. On their website Disneyland says, “We have a comprehensive approach to security that includes measures that are visible and others that are not. We do not broadly discuss the specifics of our security procedures to avoid compromising their effectiveness.” I feel safe whenever I’m there with my family. It takes a lot to protect the Happiest Place on Earth.

Do you think this deserved to be an international news story? Do you think Barnes was treated fairly?