Police incident at Newton Athletic Park on Saturday, March 30. (Image: Google Maps)

‘It was pretty much mass panic’: Parents describe chaos after reports of firearm at Surrey park

Police responded to Newton Athletic Park at about 1:50 p.m. Saturday for a reports of a man with a gun

–– Kamloops This Week

The Kamloops Youth Soccer Association plans to discuss if it can be more prepared for dangerous situations after a gun scare at a tournament in Surrey caused panic.

Last Saturday police responded to Newton Athletic Park at about 1:50 p.m. for a reports of a man with a gun.

The man was located by police and arrested. The weapon turned out to be an imitation firearm.

The KYSA had 11 teams and 127 players attending the Whitecaps FC Adidas Cup in Surrey — a tournament the organization often attends.

Kamloops resident Michaela Swann was one of the parents in attendance for the event, watching a relative’s U11 game with her daughter when the incident occurred.

READ MORE: Parents, kids flee Surrey park after reports of male with firearm

“It was pretty much mass panic,” Swann told KTW. “It wasn’t an organized evacuation by any means.”

Swann wrote on Facebook that nothing could prepare her when she heard someone yelling about an active shooter and thanked the KYSA for being able to organize and reunite people.

She told KTW she was in contact via phone with KYSA’s staff coaches right away and they did a good job reuniting separated kids and parents.

KYSA senior staff coach Mark Bell said they had teams scattered throughout the 22-hectare facility when he received a phone call from one of his coaches who said there was a serious issue at the south end, people were evacuating and he needed to get down there.

“As soon as I hang up the phone, all of a sudden a stampede of hundreds of people are flooding toward the north end of the facility,” said Bell.

People were running through the middle of a field where two Kamloops teams were playing, which created more chaos as people didn’t know what was happening, Bell said.

“It was utter chaos the way people ran across fields,” said Bell.

He said he yelled to another Kamloops coach nearby that there was an emergency and everybody had to gather their players and move to the north end of the park immediately.

Parents and players began to gather at a school across 128th Street, he said, figuring that hiding behind the school was the safest place to be.

“Other people did scatter in different directions into neighbouring neighbourhoods, which is fair enough, you kind of had to go where you needed to go at the time,” Bell said.

His staff gathered together as quickly as possible and devised a plan to have one coach stand by the entrance to the parking lot to guide any lost players.

Another was told to be at the ready in a vehicle in the event people needed to be picked up or have a place to hide.

Bell and two other coaches also went back toward the scene to look for any missing players.

The commotion began to die down after 20 minutes, Bell said, after a handful of unaccounted-for players were found safe.

“Adrenaline set in and we just responded the way we thought we should respond,” said Bell, who noted he felt coaches and parents communicated very well during the incident.

Bell said it was easy to communicate with parents and coaches as he has a master list of phone numbers to reference in a pinch.

He said there were no injuries to players and he lauded Kamloops parents and coaches for remaining calm, noting that there were a number of other people who ran straight for their vehicles and drove out of the parking lot, creating increased danger.

“I’m surprised nobody got hit by a car,” he said.

Bell said you never expect situations like this to happen and when they do it’s easier to reflect on what should have been done.

One parent told him there should be a muster point to move to before an event like Saturday’s happens, which Bell said isn’t practical in the event said location turns out to be where the emergency is occurring.

“You can’t plan for these things,” Bell said.

“It’s not like a fire drill at school.”

Missy Cederholm, executive director of the KYSA told KTW the organization has no specific policy for dealing with the circumstances that unfolded on the weekend, but coaches are asked to contact senior staff on the phone to account for all players in the event of a general emergency.

Cederholm said staff and the board of directors will discuss the incident, and is “extremely proud” of the way coaches handled the situation in the heat of the moment.

“I think they did everything they could to ensure the players’ safety,” Cederholm said.

Bell said the KYSA will discuss what else they could have done leading up to the incident to ensure player safety moving forward.

Looking back on the experience, Swann said she thinks parents should ensure they tell their children what to do in the event they are separated in an emergency situation.

Michael Potestio, Kamloops This Week

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