Knott's Berry Farm, whose Fear VR attraction stirred controversy among mental health advocates, has decided to close the Halloween attraction.
One of those who objected to Fear VR was Ron Thomas, whose son, Kelly, died after being beaten by Fullerton police. Kelly Thomas, who was homeless, suffered schizophrenia. The case generated national attention.
Fear VR was originally named Fear VR 5150. (The numbers correspond to a code used to indicate to authorities that they may detain a person who may be suffering a mental disorder that causes him or her to be a danger to others or himself or herself.)
Knott's changed the name after concerns from mental health advocates.
In an emailed statement, Knott's said, "Over the past week we have heard from a number of people expressing their concern that one of our temporary, Halloween attractions — Fear VR — is hurtful to those who suffer from mental illnesses. Contrary to some traditional and social media accounts, the attraction's story and presentation were 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."
Letters from mental health advocates criticized Knott's and the coverage of the attraction.
"Knott's Berry Farm is horrifying because it demonizes people with mental illness," Julia Robinson Shimizu of Los Angeles said in a letter to the editor received by the L.A. Times. "Shame on Knott's Berry Farm and on Los Angeles Times for presenting illness as entertainment.
"People with mental illness are our loved ones and yours…. People with mental illness are statistically more likely to be a victim of a crime than to commit a crime. Stigma and misrepresentation of the nature of mental illness continue to make it difficult for people with mental illness to get the treatment they need and even more difficult to find understanding in a world that demonizes them."
Letter writer Martha Giffen of Altadena urged the media to focus coverage on the obstacles to proper mental health treatment.
"Please encourage your reporters to write about the shortage of psychiatric beds in hospitals, the extreme difficulty of getting very ill people into treatment, the unavailability of long-term effective treatment because of misuse of funding," Giffen's letter said.
"The real story is the slow holocaust of people dying on the streets from lack of treatment, decent food, drug abuse, homelessness, no medical care, and violence. Please shine a light on that."
2:50 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from Knott's Berry Farm on the attraction.