Real bullet hits actor during Old West gunfight reenactment
TOMBSTONE, Ariz. (AP) — An actor staging a historical gunfight in the Old West town of Tombstone was shot with a live round during a show that was supposed to use blanks, leading officials to put the popular reenactments on hold.
The shooting happened Sunday as performers from the Tombstone Vigilantes group were portraying a gunfight in the 19th century mining town made famous by Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the O.K. Corral.
A performer’s gun fired live rounds, hitting a fellow member of the acting group, the Tombstone Marshal’s Office said. Ken Curtis fell to the ground and was flown to a Tucson hospital, where he underwent surgery to remove the bullet.
A bystander also was hurt, suffering a small cut to her neck from a ricochet or shrapnel. She did not require any medical treatment.
Mayor Dusty Escapule said someone inspects weapons used in the gunfight skits to ensure the performers use blanks. But he said the actor who fired the live rounds showed up late, and his gun was not examined.
“I was dumbfounded,” Escapule said of learning about the shooting. “I was just appalled the Vigilantes would allow one of the actors to not have their weapons checked.”
Escapule said the town near the U.S.-Mexico border is drawing up an ordinance to provide more regulations for the mock battles. The new rules will mandate inspections to ensure blanks are used and require background checks of every actor involved.
All Tombstone gunfights are on hold as the investigation unfolds, Escapule said.
Tombstone Marshal Bob Randall believes the shooting was an accident and says he’ll forward the case to prosecutors with a recommendation for an aggravated assault charge. He said the Tombstone Vigilantes are normally “very good at what they do, and they check their weapons religiously.”
When asked how or why the gun wasn’t checked for bullets, he said: “That’s the question of the day. Anybody that’s been around firearms knows the first thing you do is check your weapon.”
Curtis was listed in good condition Monday at Banner-University Medical Center in Tucson, hospital spokeswoman Elyse Palm said. She declined to give further details about his injuries. Curtis said he couldn’t discuss the shooting when reached at the hospital.
The Tombstone Marshal’s Office said authorities inspected the weapon and found one live round and five casings that indicated the gun was filled with live rounds prior to the skit. The mayor said the weapon was a .45-caliber pistol.
“Tombstone takes pride in the safety and security of its townspeople and tourists alike, and the citizens of Tombstone can be assured that stringent safety protocol will be enforced prior to allowing any further gunfight skits,” Randall said in a statement.
Tombstone, about three hours southeast of Phoenix, was a bustling mining town in the 1800s. It now has about 1,500 residents, and it mostly caters to visitors who come to see gunfight reenactments and historical sites.
The Tombstone Vigilantes formed in 1946 and are dedicated to preserving and passing along Tombstone’s history to tourists.
The group also performs mock hangings. The shooting occurred during Tombstone’s Helldorado Days celebration, which includes gunfights, a parade, music and line dancing.
The shooting left locals and tourists in shock. Teresa Benjamin, who dresses in late 1800s prairie outfits and promotes a local business near Allen Street, said she was worried about how it would affect tourism.
“This is our livelihood. This is tragedy,” Benjamin said.
But the incident piqued the interest of some tourists. Mitch Treese and his wife stopped in Tombstone on their way to nearby Bisbee largely out of curiosity.
“We wanted to see if it was really true. They got us on the hook.”
The shooting was reminiscent of a 2011 incident in Hill City, South Dakota, where a man fired a loaded gun during a western-themed reenactment and wounded three tourists. The man, a convicted felon, was sentenced to more than seven years in prison after authorities say he tried to cover up the fact that he used lived rounds in the shooting.