Nerd Culture

Another Crazy Night at Phoenix Comic Fest: Alarms Trigger Evacuation, Cancellation of Events

A Phoenix police officer stands outside of the Phoenix Convention Center after the building is evacuated.
A Phoenix police officer stands outside of the Phoenix Convention Center after the building is evacuated. Benjamin Leatherman
Update: Phoenix Convention Center officials suspect the incident was a false alarm. Meanwhile, Phoenix Comic Fest's staff have canceled or rescheduled events that were scheduled to take place on Saturday night. They are also offering free admission on Sunday to anyone who had Saturday-only tickets. More information can be found below.

Thousands of people were forced to evacuate Phoenix Comic Fest on Saturday night after an alarm went off at the venue hosting the event.

Shortly after 7:30 p.m., alarms and security announcements were triggered throughout the Phoenix Convention Center, directing patrons to exit the premises immediately.

The convention center's north and west buildings were both evacuated in the incident. All Comic Fest events that were scheduled to take place on Saturday night at the venue were canceled or postponed.

According to convention center deputy director Jerry Harper, there are preliminary indications it was a false alarm that wasn't linked to an actual emergency. Alarm technicians and Phoenix Fire Department officials are continuing to investigate the situation, he says.

“The Phoenix Convention Center made the decision to suspend programming for the rest of the evening, as the technical evaluation is completed,” Harper stated in a release sent to local media.

Saturday's evacuation came a half-hour after Comic Fest's exhibitor halls had closed down for day. A variety of nighttime programming and after-parties were scheduled to take place until midnight or later. As such, the convention center was still busy with Comic Fest patrons at the time.

Once the alarms started going off, everything changed.

Instead of heading to events like a nerd poetry slam or a roast of Darth Vader, Comic Fest patrons began leaving the building in a calm and orderly fashion. What they found outside, however, was anything but.

The mass exodus of people onto Third Street resulted in a chaotic and confusion-filled scene where folks were milling around and wondering what the hell was going on.

Many people started asking Comic Fest security what was happening or frantically searching social media on their phones, all while waiting around for word they could re-enter the building.

Spoiler: It never came. As the evening went on, folks eventually decided to leave, some of whom were likely frustrated by the incident.

Saturday's evacuation occurred during what is traditionally the busiest day for Phoenix Comic Fest, a which takes place across four days during Memorial Day weekend.

Comic Fest organizers had introduced a wide variety of increased security procedures in response to a dangerous incident at the event in 2017.

On the first day of last year's event, Phoenix Police officers arrested Mesa resident Matthew Sterling after he allegedly brought numerous firearms and weapons into the convention center, reportedly with the intent of killing Mighty Morphin Power Rangers actor Jason David Frank.

Despite all the security changes that were introduced for this year's Comic Fest (including a secured zone around the convention center, more metal detectors, and additional security personnel) patrons were able to enter the event relatively quickly.

As a matter of fact, this year's event had been going fairly smoothly up until Saturday night. But now Phoenix Comic Fest's staff find themselves scrambling the deal with the fallout from the evacuation.

Most of the evening events that were scheduled to take place on Saturday night were canceled, including a Hogwarts Prom, a geek speed-dating session, and the Blue Ribbon Army fan group's much-anticipated Rocket's Rad '80s Party.

Blue Ribbon Army co-founder Matt Hinds announced the party's cancellation via Facebook and said those who purchased $20 tickets to the event will be refunded.

Per the Phoenix Comic Fest staff, the event will take place on Sunday, May 27, as originally scheduled and will run from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. People who had Saturday-only admission are eligible to receive free passes for Sunday.

Meanwhile, the annual Masquerade Costume Contest, which was originally set to take place on Saturday, may be rescheduled for sometime Sunday, according to Comic Fest staff.

Officials from both the Phoenix Convention Center and Phoenix Comic Fest will hold a press conference at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning to discuss the evacuation and its fallout.

Stay tuned for further details as they become available.

Editor's note: This story has been updated since it's initial publication with additional info.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.
Dillon Rosenblatt was the social media editor at Phoenix New Times from 2016 to 2018. Originally from New Jersey, he is a graduate of Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.