Rifle displayed at Utah youth soccer tournament causes panic

Salt Lake police say they're still trying to sort out what happened during a youth soccer tournament over the weekend in which a parent displayed a rifle, causing a huge panic among players and spectators who ran for cover.

On Saturday, at a U.S. Youth Soccer tournament held at the Salt Lake City Regional Athletic Complex, 2280 N. Rose Park Lane, either two parents or two groups of parents got into an argument, said Salt Lake Police Sgt. Mark Wian.

Several people on social media claimed the argument was between two men with ties to the same girl on one of the teams.

The argument escalated, resulting in one man going to his car, according to witnesses, and getting a rifle, Wian said.

Other details such as how the man displayed or held the rifle, whether he pointed it at anyone, whether he brought it onto the playing fields or if he remained in the parking lot, were still under investigation Monday. No shots were fired, no one was injured and no arrests were made.

The incident caused a huge panic, with some people screaming "active shooter" and parents and players running to take cover behind cars in the parking lot, according to several witnesses who claimed to either be at the tournament or had friends who were there. Some people scaled fences and took shelter in the homes of random residents, according to social media posts.

"One of our defenders was coming on to the field and yelling at everyone to start running, because there was an active shooter," said Nate Shepherd, a 16-year-old soccer player who was at the tournament. "Everyone was just super, super scared and didn't know what to do."

People were running from field to field relaying the information about the situation, Erin Shepherd, Nate's mother, said. People started jumping the fence at the complex, and some were helping hand people over the fence, she said.

Erin Shepherd recalled not knowing whether to lay flat in the grass, or to try to run and hide.

"No one knew really what was going on, and you didn't know what to do other than just run," she said.

"It was pretty traumatizing," said a parent who was in her car outside the complex when it happened. "My kid is pretty shaken.

"It's sad that it's over a freaking soccer game, it's come to that," she continued. "I think we do need to realize that kids sports are just that — they're a game, and there's kids involved."

"Guns have no place at youth sporting events. Unbelievable," another woman, who had a daughter playing in the same tournament, commented.

Wian said 911 dispatchers began receiving calls at 2:32 p.m. The first officers arrived at 2:47 p.m. and contact with the man with the gun was made at 2:51 p.m.

The incident prompted U.S. Youth Soccer to issue a statement in response.

"We are both saddened by the traumatic experience for all involved, but also extremely proud of staff and volunteers who worked quickly to help local authorities defuse the situation, remove the individual(s) involved and assuage the concerns of teams and players. The team associated with the individuals involved has been expelled from the remainder of this weekend's event," the soccer association stated.

"We are disheartened that the actions of certain individuals have made many of those who love the game question their safety. Our priority is to provide a safe game-day environment, but the limits of our influence are clear when individuals choose anger over safety. Sadly, we live in a world where a disagreement can lead to tragedy."

The group said additional sanctions may be placed on the parents or the team in the near future.

In a similar incident in April, Orem police were called to a youth soccer game when an argument between parents got out of hand and someone yelled, "Gun!" according to witnesses.

Wian said detectives are still looking to collect statements from people who were at Saturday's tournament and any cellphone video that might have been taken to assist with their investigation. Witnesses can call police at 801-799-3000.

Contributing: Jacob Klopfenstein, Ladd Egan