As visitors to Scream Town entered the popular Halloween haunt Friday night, they were greeted by a sign that read, “All are welcomed here.”
One day after Carver County officials shut down the Chaska site after its owner made a disparaging comment about Somali-Americans, it reopened, welcoming hundreds of customers.
The reversal came after Scream Town agreed to hire private security guards, since the county has voided its contract for security, traffic and crowd control. The Sheriff’s Office will continue to provide routine patrols and 911 response.
As customers lined up to enter the attraction, Scream Town owner Matt Dunn stood outside, shaking hands. Three security guards stood nearby.
Some customers expressed relief that an agreement had been reached so quickly and that Dunn’s apology was so swiftly accepted by the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN).
“I’m glad he apologized,” said Pachia Vue, who is from Wisconsin. “You never know if people mean it. I think he was speaking out of anger after what happened with the teens. I’ve done it [spoken in anger] before.”
Tina Wright of Wyoming, Minn., who said she has been visiting the attraction for nine years, said, “I know why people are upset, and I know [Dunn] shouldn’t have said that.”
But “they put up extra signs that welcome everyone and he’s going over and beyond to backtrack what he said,” she said.
County Administrator David Hemze said Friday that although Dunn’s comment breached a contract that prohibits discriminatory conduct, “we also understand that citizens want their government to be reasonable in their enforcement actions, and this agreement allows for that.”
Dunn said he was “glad we were able to resolve this.”
County officials took action Thursday after Dunn wrote in a closed Facebook group for Scream Town actors: “Note that we are having a zero-tolerance policy with Somalis. (Other guests, you can make your best judgment call.) But absolutely zero tolerance with Somalis.”
Dunn has since apologized on Scream Town’s public Facebook page, saying that his first post “seemed to generalize.”
The full apology reads: “Scream Town welcomes ALL people to our event. We love our guests and we love our fans. Safety and security for our actors and guests is our top priority. We apologize for any posts that seemed to generalize. That was not our intent. All are welcome and we thank you for your business.”
Dunn said his original post came after a group of eight to 10 teenagers had caused trouble at Scream Town. He said it was poorly worded.
“It wasn’t a message to all Somali folks,” he said. “This was a terrible misunderstanding.”
CAIR-MN had asked the state Department of Human Rights to investigate Dunn’s comments, but after accepting Dunn’s apology, it withdrew the request. In a video posted to the Scream Town Facebook page Thursday evening, CAIR-MN executive director Jaylani Hussein publicly accepted Dunn’s apology and asked the community to move forward.
“We found him to be very genuine about his apology to the community,” Hussein said in the video. “We recognize there are lots of people pained and frustrated with what they saw.”
Scream Town, on about 30 rented acres near Chaska, has been considered one of the country’s best haunted attractions.
On Friday night, two women who asked not to be named said they felt reassured after Dunn said his comments were directed only at a group of teens causing problems. They said they hope Dunn and the teens all learn from the experience.
“After seeing [Hussein] accept his apology, we felt we can still come and support him,” said one of the women, who said she is from Coon Rapids.
Staff writer Mary Lynn Smith contributed to this report.