Knott’s Berry Farm has shut down a virtual experience designed to take visitors through a mental hospital scenario at the urging of local mental health advocates who called it “insensitive.”
“FEARVR” was an extra paid attraction of the park’s annual Knott’s Scary Farm event. Visitors wearing a virtual reality headset would be strapped to a hospital wheelchair during the 10-minute experience.
Ron Thomas, the father of Kelly Thomas, who was caught on video being beaten by Fullerton police officers in 2011, led the charge in calling for the attraction to be shut down. Kelly Thomas suffered from schizophrenia.
“As many of you know, Knott’s Scary Farm has an ‘attraction’ this year that depicts a mentally ill person killing and scaring people,” Ron Thomas wrote in a Facebook post. “I along with many advocates from around the nation have been working to get Knott’s to close this ‘attraction.’”
Saddleback Valley Community Church Pastor Rick Warren and his wife, Kay, were also among those calling for the attraction to be shut down. The couple’s 27-year-old son, Matthew, suffered from mental illness and committed suicide in 2013.
Knott’s Berry Farm and the entertainment company running it, Cedar Fair, decided to shut the attraction down. A statement from the amusement park emailed to Thomas said the attraction was never intended to portray mental illness.
“As it is impossible to address both concerns and misconceptions in the Halloween timeframe, at this time we have decided to close the attraction,” the statement said.
The attraction was initially called “FEARVR: 5150” in reference to the police code referring to a mentally ill subject, but “5150” was dropped on opening day after it created an uproar in the mental health community, according to the Orange County Register.