I am a lifelong resident of the city of Homestead, born and raised here and now settled here raising a family with my wife who is a transplant from Ohio.
Every year we take our four kids to the Dade County Youth Fair, and this is no easy feat being that we have 5-year-old triplets as well as a 7-year-old. So on spring break we decide to take our little big family to the fair Saturday night.
Being born here, I’ve been to the fair every year for the past 40 years and as a family we’ve been to the fair now three years in a row and it’s been a great experience every year, except for the parking which is always a mess. We planned on going Thursday night but due to last minute work situations we were forced to reschedule to the busier weekend.
On Saturday March 25th, 2023, at 5 pm, we pack our four kids in the van and take the twenty-minute drive north to visit the youth fair. The night starts awful as usual with the chaotic parking situation already jammed packed bumper to bumper for almost a mile. We sit in line for about an hour when we finally park at 6:00 pm. We bring one double stroller into the fair so it will ease the burden of the triplets getting tired and being that I planned on closing the fair down, I insist the stroller a necessity.
We stand in another long line right away to buy admission tickets, then on through some metal detectors, and then through a bag check when finally, into the 72nd Annual Miami Dade County Youth Fair we entered. It was overwhelming to me right away. “Too many people,” I thought.
If the fair was already jammed pack to capacity and all those cars behind me for miles in the parking lot were still pouring in, I felt like the fair was a powder keg ready to explode. We were forced to eat first because the line to get tickets to ride were too long. We got the kids chicken strips and pizza and fresh squeezed lemonade and then my wife and kids planted themselves on a bench to eat. I then stood in line for one hour to get overpriced unlimited ride bands at $40 per child.
The kids then started riding rides in kiddie land, one after another. Lines were moving fast no more than 10-minute waits per ride. After about two hours the kids start tiring out, so we decide to search for the Elephant Ears and Funnel Cake we always end the night with. With my wife in front of us with the girls in hand and me pushing the double stroller with the boys, chaos then erupts at the Miami Dade County Youth Fair.
People in front of us began running past us. We heard “Gun!” and “Run!” repeatedly from the people rushing past. One woman had two children in tow, one under her arm, the other almost on her back, the look of panic in her eyes instantly worried me, I began to hesitate. What was just a few people quickly was now everyone running and stampeding for their lives. I felt the sound wave of people all running towards us. My wife was the first to carry the girls running towards the restrooms we had just visited. I push the stroller in her direction with the boys holding tight. We were getting distance between the chaos and huddled near a bathroom when we stopped to figure out what to do next.
At this point the kids are freaked out so we decide the safest option is to simply leave the fair early. Unfortunately, thousands of people decided to do the same thing. I see one police officer walking fast into and towards all the chaos. I am glad to see their gun is not drawn. At this point we have still not heard any gun shots, but active shooter is still on our minds.
We decide to make our way to the exit. We begin blending in and slowly rushing into the large crowd of people who are all heading towards the exit. We then enter a bottle neck that if we stopped, we could have been trampled. I see a police officer and as we slowly walk past him, I ask him, “Are we safe? Are we okay?” He ignores me and does not acknowledge my question at all. I could touch him, so I knew he could hear me. Again, this worries me.
Finally exiting the park, I turn around and I can see shoes and clothes and toys strewn about from where the stampede bottle necks through the exit. Screaming and crying still fills the crowd.
We are parked about five rows away from the entrance and we find that we can’t run fast enough to get there. My wife has Lucy clutched in her arms while the triplets are now in the stroller bumping and tumbling roughly through the grass field we are parked in. About one row from our car, we hear a second stampede beginning behind us. The yelling and running again starting. Chaos and panic fills a crowd that does not know what they are running from. People begin jumping fences because they cannot exit the fair fast enough.
Once in the van, we immediately begin driving not even waiting for the kids to put their seatbelts on. Adrenaline is pumping and fear is very real for every single one of us. My wife jumps to the back to calm our 7-year-old who is crying from the traumatic experience. “Why were so many people running Dad,” asked one of the triplets.
Exiting the lot was intense with people running frantically to their cars. It was stop and go for one minute until finally a complete stop all together. With so many people exiting the park at the same time it was only inevitable that we would be stuck. For almost an hour we stood frozen in traffic with barely any movement at all. A new panic now sets in when our phones lose reception as well. Getting occasional signals, we read a report online of a possible shooting and stampede at the fair but no more than that. We are glad we immediately exited the park.
About an hour and a half of sitting in traffic, we finally exit the fairgrounds. I let out a great big yell celebrating our departure and am just happy we survived this chaotic moment at the Dade County Youth Fair.
Of course, none of it even made the local news. Was it just a stampede or were their actual bullets fired? Either way the community should know about it. Miami Dade County Youth Fair has let me down this year. Very unsafe and traumatizing experience.
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