Thousands of people — many dressed as foxes, bears, pandas, and other fuzzy creatures — were evacuated from a suburban Chicago hotel early Sunday morning after a chemical leak that police are investigating as a criminal act.
The leak — of a chlorine-containing gas in the Hyatt O'Hare Regency Hotel — sent 19 people to the hospital, including several attendees at the 15th annual "Midwest FurFest," an animal fandom convention. The hospitalized individuals "complained of nausea and dizziness," the Midwest FurFest organizers explained on their website.
"The Rosemont Police Department determined this was a criminal act and began investigating it as such," the Midwest FurFest statement said. The event is a giant convergence of furry devotees who "come together to celebrate furry fandom, that is, art, literature and performance based around anthropomorphic animals."
The Chicago Tribune reported that local police have said the way the gas was released "suggests an intentional act."
All guests and staff at the hotel were evacuated from 1am until 4am, rattling the costumed enthusiasts who had gathered for a weekend of events, including a "Fursuit photo shoot," a furry wrestling match, animal-themed writing workshops, and a "midnight howl" to howl at the full moon.
"Furs are family," one fur lover, Jared Sloger, who was unable to attend the convention this year, told VICE News. "I have a couple of dozen friends who are [at the convention]. I'm making sure they're safe."
Lisa Spees, a hotel guest who was not attending the furry festival, went to the hospital for several hours after the chlorine-containing gas seeped into her room.
"People were out in the hallways partying for the convention so it was a chaotic night to begin with," Spees told VICE News, explaining that she was having trouble sleeping when she started noticing an odd smell in her room at about 12:30am. "I noticed a strong bleach smell…so I got up and was trying to drink water because my throat was getting a burning sensation and I was having trouble breathing."
The incident prompted an outpouring of support on social media by the furry community, as well as a few jokes.
Just a little upset emotionally. Its now all processing slowly. You never think that this type of thing would happen.
— FurMedia (@FurMedia)December 7, 2014
The kind words of our guests, fans, and fellow fannish organizations are overwhelming. Thank you all so much - it helps more than you know!
— Midwest FurFest (@midwestfurfest)December 7, 2014
Follow Meredith Hoffman on Twitter: @merhoffman
Photo via Flickr