Should White Sox have cleared ballpark after shooting? Did the United Center handle the Lil Durk incident correctly? Experts weigh in

Two incidents seemingly involving guns in large public gatherings. Two different responses. Two different outcomes. But unanswered questions for both.

Near the end of his set on Aug. 12 at United Center, Lil Durk left the stage after his personal security team said it had spotted two people with weapons, according to police.

Not long after that, unconfirmed reports of a shooting swept through the center, sending more than 11,000 panicked fans rushing for the exits, yelling and fighting as they tried to leave.

“It was a stampede,” Christina Holt, who was injured in the melee, told the Sun-Times. “We were stepped on, walked on and knocked down.”

Christina Holt sits with her sprained leg a couple of days after the Lil Durk concert at United Center last month. Holt was injured protecting her nephews from a stampede after false reports of an active shooter panicked concertgoers at the show.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

No gun or shooter was found.

Two weeks later, two women were struck by bullets on Aug. 25 near section 161 of Guaranteed Rate Field during the White Sox game against the Oakland Athletics. 

One woman, 42, suffered two gunshot wounds to the right leg, while another woman, 26, was grazed by a bullet in her lower abdomen. 

Theories and rumors and unconfirmed reports have circulated on social media, but officials have released virtually no details about the shooting, including whether the bullets came from inside or outside of the stadium.

But regardless of how the two incidents unfolded, questions arose in both cases about how officials responded and what information, if any, should have been shared during the events.

Despite knowing two women had been shot at the White Sox game, officials didn’t alert the crowd or the players, and the game continued, although a post-game concert by Vanilla Ice was canceled. At the United Center, Lil Durk left the stage but there was apparently no announcement from stadium officials as to what happened or whether fans should leave; video from the scene showed one police officer with a long gun telling people in a concourse to clear out.

Part 2 😳 it’s bustin

Unconfirmed reports of a shooting/active shooter at the United Center during the WGCI Summer Jam/ Lil Durk 2nd show in Chicago .

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— Boss Blaze (@BossBlaze1) August 13, 2023

Security experts contacted by the Sun-Times said while it’s difficult to evaluate the response to both incidents, they both raised further questions, including how officials quickly determined there was no active threat at the White Sox game and whether staff was prepared to handle the large number of fans fleeing the United Center.

“The ultimate and most important question to answer right now is for the police and the security to answer the question of, how did this happen?” said Art Lurigio, associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences at Loyola University and a professor of criminal justice and psychology, who said the incidents at both venues were “very disturbing.”

Officials with both the White Sox and the United Center said security was a top priority, but declined to go into specifics on their protocols in these situations.

‘Lack of transparency’ cause for concern

With virtually no answers having surfaced in the more than two weeks since the shooting at the White Sox game, Lurigio said police have operated under a “shroud of uncertainty.”

“I am concerned with what appears to be an utter lack of transparency in the Guaranteed Rate shooting,” Lurigio said. He also said the explanation by White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf that shots came from outside the ballpark is “completely implausible.”

He said there are many variables that would affect the security response to a shooter, or reports of one.

“If you’ve identified a shooter, and you remove them from the scene, there’s no reason to stop the game and to instill more fear. The same is true about the [Lil Durk] concert. But if you don’t have a shooter in custody, the best practice is get out or hunker down.”

Steven Adelman, vice president of Event Safety Alliance, an international nonprofit that helps live event productions implement effective safety measures, said security guards should be trained to get everyone’s attention and position themselves by exit doors to let people out if they know an evacuation is going to happen.

He said the situation at the United Center was an “unscheduled self-evacuation” — which is logical because people will flee if they think they’re in mortal danger.

Adelman doesn’t fault the crowd for fleeing or the security team for how things initially unfolded. 

But he does have questions for whether the stadium was prepared for a mass exit and how staff handled the crowd, included whether guards steered the crowd toward exits or less densely congested areas where people were safer. “Were there enough guest service staff, security guards or law enforcement officers who could help direct the crowd?” Adelman asked. 

“ … Did you have security guards standing there trying to attract the attention of the crowd so that the crowd would go out the doors as opposed to just standing there in stunned horror, or whatever people were doing?… Did you do those things?”

‘If it’s an obvious threat to life and limb, the game should be stopped’

According to police reports, police had requested to stop the White Sox game, but officials determined there was no immediate threat.

Lurigio said, “if there’s a public safety imperative, the police’s orders should supersede the decision making of the MLB or any other authority that has to do with a sport being played in the venue.”

He added, “If it’s an obvious threat to life and limb, the game should be stopped and the stadium should be cleared.”

But since the White Sox incident was a “highly ambiguous” situation, he questioned how officials concluded there was no active threat — as did Adelman.

Chicago police officers stand outside Guaranteed Rate Field on Aug. 25, 2023. Several weeks after the shooting, there are still few answers on how two women were shot during a game and where the shots came from.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere, AP Photos

“How was the determination made that there was no ongoing threat if they still didn’t know where the bullets came from?” he said. 

If there truly was no ongoing threat, it’s understandable that they only emptied the section where the bullets hit and opted not to evacuate the entire ballpark, Adelman said, so as not to “invite the United Center scenario.”  

Chicago teams give few details on security protocols

It’s unclear whether security crews in either incident followed protocols since neither the White Sox nor the United Center would give specifics on their security procedures.

“The White Sox work directly with Major League Baseball and law enforcement agencies to create response scenarios for a variety of possible events at the ballpark to maximize preparedness and the safety of our fans,” White Sox spokesman Scott Reifert said.

Officials with the United Center said in a statement that the venue “has plans in place for security related matters. These plans are constantly evaluated and evolve as needed to ensure the safety and security of our players, employees, and guests at the United Center, which is our top priority.”

White Sox players at the time said they were unaware of the shooting while the game was being played and said it was terrifying to think a gun might have made it past security. But left fielder Andrew Benintendi, who along with center fielder Luis Robert and pitchers in the left field bullpen were the players nearest to the scene, said he does not fear for his safety in the wake of the incident.

“I do feel safe,” Benintendi said Tuesday. “I mean, it never even crossed my mind that that would happen with the amount of security we have there.”

Other Chicago sports team said they also have safety plans in place but offered few specifics.

Officials with the Bears, whose home opener will bring more than 60,000 fans to Soldier Field Sunday, said they have protocols for different scenarios that may occur at the stadium.

Quinn Harris, Getty

Officials with the Bears, whose home opener will bring more than 60,000 fans to Soldier Field Sunday, said while they have protocols for different scenarios that may occur at the stadium, including gun violence, “it is our club policy not to discuss or disclose security measures or protocol.”

Defensive tackle Justin Jones said that he had “complete faith in our operation” to “keep stuff like that from happening,” but was shaken by what happened during the White Sox game, especially if it’s determined a gun was brought inside.

“You have to look at that operation over there, and see … how that fell short,” he said late last month. “Because at that point, you are not only failing the fans, you are failing the players.”

Cubs left fielder Ian Happ told the Sun-Times “we have guys who travel with us and protect our families. Never had an issue at Wrigley, and I feel really comfortable about the people that we have around us.”

The Cubs do have plans in place at Wrigley Field in case of an active shooter, Cubs spokesperson Julian Green said. The security team also goes through exercises every year “to simulate threats and test protocols and procedures.”

Wintrust Arena utilizes the private security firm Monterrey Security in addition to uniform and undercover Chicago police officers in and around the building during every Sky game. Monterrey and the CPD have plans and protocols in place and have conducted active shooter drills. 

Can teams learn from incident?

Still, any team that wanted to learn from the shooting at Guaranteed Rate Field would need clarity on the incident since the conflicting information stirs confusion over where the breakdown in security may have occurred.

Lurigio said the recent incidents don’t necessarily mean going to public events has become more dangerous but “it’s cause for concern because it’s going to create fear and fear is going to diminish the quality of life of residents in the city.”

The threat of a shooting at these events, or even the thought one could happen, has been made worse by the proliferation of guns in the U.S., Adelman said. 

“If there weren’t so many guns in so many people’s hands, there would be fewer incidents, certainly like the one that happened at the United Center where there wasn’t even a gun,” Adelman said. 

“But there’s such widespread belief that there could be. And it’s so top of mind for so many people.” 

Contributing: Anne Costabile, Patrick Finley, Maddie Lee, Ben Pope, Daryl Van Schouwen

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