WILLOWICK, Ohio — Willowick Police Chief Brian Turner said officers took 10 juveniles into custody on Sunday night after large groups of unaccompanied minors began fighting and causing a series of disturbances on the final night of Saint Mary Magdelene Church’s annual fair. The four-day festival was shut down earlier than anticipated after larger-than-expected crowds, which included groups of unruly juveniles, packed the festival grounds, the police chief said.
Turner said he had to reassign every patrol officer that was currently on duty on Sunday night in order to help officers working the festival disperse the crowds. Mutual aid from neighboring police departments, including Wickliffe, Willoughby, Willoughby Hills and Kirtland were also called in to assist. Although it is unclear what charges the 10 juveniles may face, Turner said one minor was in possession of a handgun. The gun was never displayed nor were any shots fired, Turner said.
One Willowick officer was forced to use a pepper ball gun — a less lethal munition that uses a powdered irritant — in order to disperse the crowds.
“Officers did the best they could. It’s not like [there were] one or two people that are causing the problems and you could contain them,” Turner said. “It turned into a riotous situation and a mob mentality. They had a bunch of fights and they decided to shut it down early. The problem is you get people out of the festival grounds and now you have people all along Vine Street that are causing problems at businesses and residential areas. There’s only so much you can do.”
Turner said there were minor issues reported at the festival on Friday and Saturday night but the situation became untenable on Sunday night.
Norman Herrera was at the fair on Sunday with his children until he started seeing the agitation building in the crowds of juveniles building, he said.
“I went to my wife and I said, ‘we’ve got to go.’ The kids were fighting and cussing like crazy,” Herrera said. “Chaos. Just basically chaos. A lot of kids running around, hanging out, just chaos. There were a lot of fights all over the place. It wasn’t just one area.”
Videos posted to social media show large crowds of juveniles scattering into the adjoining business district as well as some of the neighborhoods nearby. Many businesses open on Sunday night voluntarily closed early.
Parish officials described Monday — the day after the incidents — as a sad day.
“I’m actually really sick to my stomach that this happened. It’s a parish festival. There are supposed to be people going there to have a good time,” Turner said. “But this element, this is their fun: going up here and causing these disturbances. It has nothing to do with the city and it had nothing to do with the church. The church didn’t put this on to have these problems. It’s this element that comes in and creates these problems for us. They should be the target of everybody’s rage.”
As for the future of the Saint Mary Magdelene Festival, Turner said he plans on meeting with church and parish officials soon. At this current point in time, he said he’s unsure if any officers would be willing to provide off-duty security for the festival. Additionally, Turner expects neighboring police departments to hesitate in staffing the event.
“I can’t imagine they’d want their people to work it with this nonsense,” Turner said.