On Saturday, Cullman claimed their first basketball state championship in school history. And on top of that, it had been 90 years since the Bearcats had made it to the final four. It was a promising weekend for the students and alumni, especially when Coach Stuedeman raised up the blue map trophy.
But soon after, panic struck throughout Legacy Arena. A fight broke out between a group of 5-10 people, and without any officers nearby to put a stop to senseless fighting, it just continued to grow. Before long, there was a brawl of more than 50 people taking place. Then, a series of loud bang struck that were heard throughout the BJCC, and then even more chaos broke out in the concourse of the arena. Visitors began hitting the floor taking cover, which led to multiple injuries as people were trampled by herds of people rushing to the exit. It was absolute chaos, and worse than that, it was dangerous to thousands who had came to visit and the result of lack of preparation for such an event.
The AHSAA and BJCC have policies in place to prevent weapons from being brought into events like this, where more than 10,000 people gathered on Saturday, and a security plan. The problem wasn’t the policy. It was that it wasn’t enforced.
Taylor Holland, a Birmingham resident, reached out to Cullman Daily on Sunday with concerns and things he thought led to a spine chilling moment throughout the entire BJCC complex.
“I always carry a pocketknife. It is routine to have it with me. I didn’t even think about it until I was feet away from the “metal detectors” at Legacy Arena and a long walk from my car.” Said Holland, “I was entering from 19th street and noticed there seemed to be plenty of security outside the building to enter. Once I realized I was carrying my knife, I fully expected to be turned away at the gate, and I was even considering letting security take it because I was running behind.”
What Holland said next just reenforced claims many others who reached out but wished to not have their names released.
“I walked straight in the door, no questions asked.”
We had another person reach out over the weekend with a similar story, but one notable difference is that he didn’t have a pocket knife, he had a concealed firearm where he walked through the BJCC security system. No questions asked. While this notably did violate the policy at the event and according to the policy stated, should never been allowed in the door, it did not violate state law for a law abiding citizens who holds a permit to carry a firearm. However, if this person can go into the venue with a firearm and do so with no questions asked, how many others did the same? Were they all possessing their weapons for the sole purpose of self defense? And if this person along with a host of others could walk through security unnoticed, shouldn’t it raise eyebrows that any ill-intended person could have done the same?
Another striking thing is that as while fights continued to break out all throughout Legacy Arena on Saturday, law enforcement was completely outnumbered and had no answer to getting things under control. According to Randy Roberts of Falkville, he had just walked out of the restroom when he saw the unrest beginning to take place.
“There was a group of people fighting and no security or law enforcement anywhere to be seen trying to get control before it got out of hand,” said Roberts. “It finally calmed down for a second, and then someone came through and punched a female and from there it escalated into a brawl of at least 50 people. I started running trying to get away, and that’s when I heard what sounded like gunshots and then, the chaos really struck.”
Randy wasn’t the only person at the event that said he heard gunshots, in fact, several have reported to Cullman Daily that they saw a gun fired. This video was sent from a viewer who said a weapon was pulled during this fight which resulted in all the spectators scrambling, and shortly after he quit filming, the bangs started.
Leslie Holland, who works in law enforcement with probation and parole, was among those caught in the chaotic scene, and she witnessed it with her own eyes. “I was there. I heard it all. I saw it. It was horrible,” said Holland. “I knew it was gunshots. The second round went off approximately 6 minutes later. The Birmingham Police Department was not interested in my statement when I offered. There was an active shooter in the building.”
Also mixed in with all the pandemonium was Sherrelle Smith. “I heard two rounds of gunshots and then was caught in a stampede. We tried to leave the building, but they wouldn’t let us outside… 5 minutes later, they announce there were no shots.” Smith then approached a Legacy Arena worker, and according to her, the worker said there were shots fired. She also stated that the “security system wasn’t working today.”
Sherrelle was not alone in trying to get out of the Arena during the chaos but getting stopped from exiting the building, Cullman attorney Blake West also had a similar story.
“We began looking for the best way to exit the building when another, smaller rush of people occurred. We began walking to the exit. The police were erecting the metal crowd control fencing between us and the door. I began to go around the fence, which was keeping us toward the commotion. The officer told us to stop. I looked him in the eye and said we are exiting in this direction. As we walked past him he made some threat of taking me to jail. We kept walking. After we were out several people said the police would not let them exit the building right after the noise,” said West.
The truth is, we will probably never all agree on exactly what happened. What we do know is this: it shouldn’t have happened, and it definitely should not be able to happen again. While the AHSAA continues to remain silent, this is an issue that needs to be addressed. And for the sake of thousands of high school students and families who go to enjoy a basketball game, they should not go in fear. There needs to be accountability.
Below are a small selection of many stories that were sent to Cullman Daily speaking on the event:
From Angela Hudson: I heard pop-someone’s got a gun-pop-pop-pop. Then I whirl around and see and hear people running toward us. We three go to run, but I grabbed Olivia’s shirt and we dove under the water fountains (by bathrooms section 117-118) that were inset into the block walls. The crowd I feel like would have trampled us. Then two sets of elderly, adult women came down into the floor with us while the men covered us. One lady was praying and we all were crying. We couldn’t see Victoria or get to her which made the situation even worse. When the men saw an opening, we all made a run for it to the outside of the building. Victoria and some others had also made a run for it outside. After we got home, we realized our knees were bruised and banged up. Sore from where we were pinned down. We even talked about after Wednesday night’s game how lax the security was. Wednesday night saw Police asleep in their car that were supposed to be watching out. Then Friday the same thing. Metal detectors
that you didn’t have to take your keys out of pocket. Security standing around talking. In this day and age there are cameras everywhere. I want to see the video from the BJCC. I want to see the metal falling over. I want to see the fireworks. I want to see the metal pipe. Sounded like gun fire from a small handgun and I want to see that video, also. This was extremely mentally and physically taxing on my entire family that was there plus our families at home wondering if we were alive.
From Kayrie Weldon: I was at the Legacy Arena today when the shots were fired. Me and my dad were walking towards the exit when a tsunami of people ran towards us heading the opposite way. At this point, we could either run or be trampled. My dad grabbed me and we took off running and ducked out an exit and three boys followed us. As we were running, I swear I heard gunshots from behind us. When we opened the door my phone was knocked out of my hand and I knew my life mattered more than my phone, so I kept running. We ran through a hallway, then through a storage room, then we ended up outside in an elevated area. The three boys were from Cullman, and one was much younger and he was separated from his family. He went with his grandfather who ended up tripping and the little boy was swept away with the crowd. The other two boys had managed to get in touch with their friends and family, but the younger boy had no cell phone. The older two boys went to school with the younger boy’s older brother and they were able to get in contact with him. At this point, we started to wonder if the area we were in was safe. Turns out, we were right outside the North Hall. A woman opened the door and told us to come inside because that area was about to be locked down and it was safe. An older woman asked if the three boys were related to us and when we said no she took them to security. (The younger boy called his mother on my dad’s phone and we called her afterwards and his grandfather is okay and they were reunited.) A woman came over the speaker 10 minutes after we entered the hall and said “Sorry for all the chaos caused by the people who came in here running and screaming, but it was a false alarm.” After hearing that, me and my dad decided to just go home. When we tried to exit, some security guards stopped us and said it was a false alarm in the North Hall, but it was NOT a false alarm in the Legacy Arena. They eventually let us out, and I decided to call my cell phone to see if anyone answered. A security guard answered and said he had my phone at entrance A. We began to walk over there and another security guard told us that area was still unsafe. We eventually made it over and i received my phone (no cracks whatsoever, somehow) and we went home. I personally do not believe that it was a false alarm. Even if it was false, the chaos and pandemonium were just as bad as it would’ve been during a real shooting.
From Alyssa Dabbs: I never knew that today would be the day that I would live my worst fear. Being trampled on, hearing screaming and continuous gun shots, getting completely separated from my husband and family, watching my mom and aunt getting bodies thrown on them, going into complete survival mode, fully expecting a bullet to rip through my back as I’m trying to fight for my life to get up off of the ground, bruises and cuts all over our bodies, trying to frantically call my husband and make sure that he’s okay and hasn’t been shot, having the thought that I won’t make it out alive, finding friends and loved ones panicking trying to find their families, laying on the floor by the seats in the arena thinking that this is my last moments on earth, praying as hard as I can! God completely had his hand on every single one of us and we trust him fully! Tell your friends and family you love them, because you never know when your last moments with them will be! We are praying for every family with injuries and the ones that will live with the trauma and fear forever!! All I can say is THANK YOU JESUS!!!
From Katie Edmond: My boyfriend and his parents were stuck in the crowd trying to get out. We were joking about how it was a traffic jam and then we heard screams and then people were running and then gunshots were fired. They were definitely gunshots. They sounds terrifying to the point where they send chills down your spine. So my boyfriends dad grabbed my hand and ran us down an emergency exit. I had members I’d the bearcat band confirm they saw and heard the gun.
From Blake West: While I now believe that there was no gunfire it does not tell the entire story. The official story is quite misleading. I have read many posts by others who were there and heard the same thing I did. Here is my story. First it was a great game and wonderful to see Cullman win. After the game and trophy presentation Darla went to the restroom. I decided to go wait for her in the concourse. The concourse was thick with people, as crowded as I have ever seen it. While waiting I saw my friend Josh O’Neal, his daughter was with him. We were talking when a crowd began rushing toward us. We began moving in the direction of the crowd because there was no choice. I heard something that sounded a lot like gunfire. Someone stepped on my foot causing my shoe to come off. I got out of the crowd stream and was looking toward the commotion. Brooks and Darla were not with me so I began walking toward the commotion to try and find them and retrieve my lost shoe. People were still scattering. I did not see any people shot, nor any indications that people were shot. I did not see any metal fencing on the floor. I did not see any police, either. I turned around and found Darla and Brooks. We then learned via text that one of Brooks’ friends was separated from his parents. I went back to the area of commotion looking for him. I did not see him. This time I did see a few policemen standing around. I went back to Brooks and Darla. We began looking for the best way to exit the building when another, smaller rush of people occured. We began walking to the exit. The police were erecting the metal crowd control fencing between us and the door. I began to go around the fence, which was keeping us toward the commotion. The officer told us to stop. I looked him in the eye and said we are exiting in this direction. As we walked past him he made some threat of taking me to jail. We kept walking. After we were out several people said the police would not let them exit the building right after the noise. Many news reports based on reports from the BJCC and police say no shots were fired that a fight knocked over something causing a noise. It seems odd that with possible gunfire that they kept people in the building. There appeared to be no plan to deal with the situation. Why not tell the entire story? Why blame the fans who in that area appeared to be mostly from Cullman?
From Taylor Holland: Yesterday was such a bittersweet moment for my family and me. As an ’07 alum of CHS, it was exciting to watch these guys win the first basketball State Championship in Cullman’s history. It was my first time at the Legacy Arena since being renovated. I was impressed with the changes as it signified a renovation and change in my new hometown, Birmingham. I felt something was not right when I arrived at the gate.I carry a pocketknife. It is routine to have it with me. I didn’t think about it until I was feet away from the metal detectors at Legacy Arena and a long walk from my car. I was entering from 19th street and noticed there seemed to be plenty of security. Once I realized I was carrying my knife, I expected to be turned away at the gate.I walked straight in the door, no questions asked . . .The game had just ended with Cullman bringing home the state title. I gathered with my family in the concourse foyer area. We were outside of section 115 & 114. I was with my Dad, stepmother, stepbrother Graysen Smith and his three children all of whom are under 11 years old. We waited for my little brother, Nick, to come up the steps with all the other CHS students. My brother is a Sophomore at Cullman. Everyone was upbeat and jubilant after the game. The Cullman students were proudly chanting “Let’s go Cullman” in the foyer as 300+ of us were doing the crowded shoulder-to-shoulder shuffle headed for the exit gates. I believe we were headed toward the main outdoor exit of the arena near section 105-108. The same way I entered hours earlier. I was behind my family as we made our way out. We were in the middle of the crowd when a nightmare ensued within seconds.Joy turned to utter fear and panic. I remember seeing people about 15 feet in front of me starting to turn and rush towards us. I believe I saw someone pull their hand in the air and in the same instance, I hear GUN GUN, He’s got a gun! POP POP POP! Screaming! That’s what I hear as a flood of bodies started pushing and trampling toward us as everyone turned to try and make their escape. My first instinct was to run across the foyer toward the stadium seats. Others were hitting the ground everywhere to avoid gunfire. It was mayhem. I’ll never forget those few moments in my mind as I thought any second I could be shot in the back. Every possible emotion hits you at once. You’re worried about yourself, but you’re also in fear for everyone around you. You’re hoping they don’t take a bullet. Trying to gather your surroundings. Everything is loud as people scream and cry out. You know you heard initial shots ring as you desperately try to decipher the sound of more shots second to second. People crowded on top of one another. Others ducked behind pillars and under seats and tables. I ended up next to and on top of some of the CHS band members. I remember seeing all the instruments were being destroyed by people trampling out of the way. I got down into the stadium seats hiding behind the concrete pillars.After the initial 30 seconds passed, I decided I couldn’t stay put or I’d be in more trouble. I was thankful in that moment to have the knife in my pocket. I didn’t hear any more shots at this point, but I felt like I couldn’t sit still not knowing if there was an active shooter roaming the building. People were still screaming and shouting. I carefully made my way back into the foyer searching for my family. I saw them across the way together and terrified but did not see my dad or stepbrother. Then, I spotted my dad roaming the foyer. As I saw him roaming the area I thought Dear God, he’s looking for injured victims on the ground to help. My father is a Physician in Cullman.I caught up to him and realized it was a different worst-case scenario. He said, “We’ve lost Landen!” My 11-year-old nephew had gone missing in the mad scramble. I immediately started looking. I found Graysen frantically searching for him. Fortunately, he was able to get Landen on the phone. He kept saying he was “in a Locker Room.” I took this as any sort of bathroom, storage room, or actual locker room. People were still in shock everywhere, still hiding. Unaware of what had just happened. I ran into the nearest Men’s room calling for Landen. I saw a mother praying over three small children huddled in a corner near the urinals. I thought to myself this can’t be real. I didn’t see Landen. I went back into the foyer to check on my family and we were all just panicked trying to figure out how to find the oldest child. I headed off looking again.I would later find out that my stepmother jumped on top of the two youngest in the mayhem, while my teenage brother’s instinct was to lay on top of all of them after dragging them behind a pillar. At most 2-5 minutes have passed since the initial shots rang out. Then it happens again!At this point, I’m close to the Women’s bathroom still searching for Landen as 50+ people start to flee into the same bathroom. We hear it again. This time I know what I heard. The same gun pops as earlier, but not as many.Once I was crammed into the bathroom, I realized I was a sitting duck. Again, I couldn’t sit still bc I was trapped in that bathroom. I had to get out.I exited the bathroom and realized Landen was still missing. It was all so insane. I headed for the far end of the arena away from where the shots were heard initially. This would’ve been toward sections 121-124. I went down into the stadium seating as others were exiting. At this point, the 7A girls’ championship between Vestavia and Hoover was clearly delayed and people were still scattering out from the lower bowl. I spotted my dad on the floor headed toward a doorway opening on the floor. I headed down that way and realized it led to the outside of the locker rooms for both teams that were competing. In this extremely tense moment, we faced an unfortunate situation as we were still frantically searching for our missing 11-year-old. A police officer was standing outside the locker rooms and refused to let my dad go inside to look for Landen. We then asked him to at least check the visitor’s locker room which now had a handwritten Hoover sign on the door. The officer condescendingly questioned us as if we were idiots for asking him to please search for our missing child in that locker room. It was insulting and infuriating at the same time. We knew Landen was telling us he was in a locker room somewhere. (I didn’t know until later, but at this point Landen’s phone had died and were trusting what he told us.) There was another officer wearing more tactical gear who was more receptive; as well as, two ladies who appeared to be with AHSAA. They were doing their best to help us as we were trying to explain that we had a missing child who was claiming to be in a locker room. The rude officer continued to tell us to leave. We were furious as we turned to leave the area. As soon as we began to walk away, someone started shouting Graysen Smith! Graysen Smith! Yes! That’s us! We’re with Graysen!Landen was walking out of the locker room arm-in-arm with one of the Cullman players. He was safe, but extremely traumatized. We were all traumatized, but we felt some sense of relief after finding Landen. We brought him back up to the main foyer to meet the rest of the family. Graysen was still searching for him as I called to tell him we had Landen. Seeing their embrace after being separated was another surreal moment. The immediate panic was finally over, and we gathered ourselves as best we could. The goal was to get the hell out of the arena. I find it insulting that people are so quick to dismiss what happened from behind the safety of their keyboards. They were not there. It was real. It was chaotic, and it’s a situation you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy.There are 300+ people who will tell a similar story. What I find more frustratinng is the response from local and state officials. There should be a real investigation into what happened and caused the mass panic. That many people don’t flee and panic in the numbers that occurred yesterday for no reason.Congratulations to the 6A State Champions. It’s such a shame that this currently overshadows their awesome accomplishment, but hopefully not in the long term.You never think you’ll be in a situation like this until it happens, and then you wonder if you’re making the right decisions and doing what’s best. Like my brother said after we made it outside the arena – it all felt like a dream.