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Distressed Man Fires Shots at Disney World Security Guards at EPCOT After Break-Up With Girlfriend

spaceship earth at epcot
Credit: Becky Burkett
This post contains mentions of suicide and may not be suitable for all readers. Viewer discretion is advised.

Disney World has been known as “The Most Magical Place on Earth” since the Central Florida theme park resort welcomed the first guests through the gates in October 1971.

disney world opens 1971

The opening of Disney World, October 1971/Credit: D23

But for all its childhood nostalgia, wishes granted, and magical moments, the truth is that Disney World–like any other public location–has been the setting of some less-than-magical incidents over the years, though those incidents have been rare.

Tragic Accidents at Disney World

In November 1984, two years after EPCOT opened and just one day before Thanksgiving, a young family of five was en route to Disney World via a rented single-engine airplane to enjoy the parks for the very first time.

But shortly before the end of the flight, the plane crashed atop unoccupied vehicles in the parking lot at EPCOT, just 200 yards from the monorail track and approximately a half-mile from the Spaceship Earth structure.

epcot monorail

Credit: Becky Burkett

Then, in 2016, tragedy struck again as a toddler who was visiting Disney World with his parents and sister was attacked by an alligator in the waters that border Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort.

On June 14, 2016, Matt and Melissa Graves and their children from Elkhorn, Nebraska, were at the beach at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. As two-year-old Lane Graves played near the water, an alligator suddenly snatched him and dragged him into the water. His father tried in desperation to save his son, but sadly, the toddler drowned as his parents and his four-year-old sister witnessed the terrifying event in horror.

Lane Graves

Credit: The Lane Thomas Foundation

Since the tragic accident, Disney World has added signage at every body of water on Disney property, warning guests not to go in or near the water because of the dangers of alligators, snakes, and other wildlife.

Additionally, thanks to a partnership between Disney World and Florida’s Wildlife Commission, more than 250 alligators have been removed from Disney’s property.

Six years later, during a visit to Disney World in 2022, 40-year-old Philip Weybourne reportedly spent much of the day drinking at Disney Springs. Afterward, he returned to Disney’s Yacht Club, where he continued to drink at one of the resort hotel’s bars.

Disney's Yacht Club

Credit: Disney

Hours later, the young father, who was vacationing with his wife and son, went into cardiac arrest, and attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful. A death investigation revealed that Weybourne had suffered a heart attack following an overdose of the powerful drug Fentanyl.

These are just a few of the heartbreaking accidents that have happened at Disney World. But not every tragedy that has taken place at the Central Florida parks was accidental.

Distressed Ex-Boyfriend Makes Demands at EPCOT

In September 1992, Allen J. Ferris, a 37-year-old from Rochester, New York, arrived at EPCOT on a Saturday night after the park had closed for the evening.

Upon his arrival, Ferris brandished his shotgun at three of Disney World’s security guards, and according to Orange County Sheriff’s Office spokesman at the time, Jim Solomons, Ferris demanded to see his ex-girlfriend, Barbara Crouse, who also worked as a security guard at EPCOT. The couple had reportedly broken up approximately six weeks earlier, after which Ferris attempted to take his life.

In a bizarre series of events, Ferris fired four shots at the security personnel and took two of the guards hostage, holding them in a restroom near the Journey Into Imagination pavilion in the park.

journey into imagination

Journey Into Imagination attraction at EPCOT/Credit: Becky Burkett

Officers Arrive to Diffuse the Situation

Orange County Sheriff’s deputies arrived on the scene and surrounded the area where Ferris was holding the two hostages. Ferris let the security guards go before emerging from the restroom with the shotgun held to his body.

An exchange of words between Ferris and OCSO deputies followed, but Ferris tragically took his own life. He was pronounced deceased upon his arrival at Orlando Regional Medical Center, several miles from the Walt Disney World Resort.

Sadly, investigators would ultimately discover that Ferris’s state of mind and resulting actions were in response to a recent break-up with his girlfriend, whom he had dated for years.

A Heartbreaking String of Loss

Ferris’s death is just one of the heartbreaking incidences of visitors taking their lives on Disney Parks property. Sadly, a minimum of 13 suicides have taken place at both Disneyland in Anaheim, California and the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida.

Disneyland karen Disneyland gas theft

Mickey and Friends Parking Garage at Disneyland California/Credit: Disney

Because of this grievous string of losses at the parks, some fans have looked to Disney to take steps to help deter visitors from committing suicide at Disneyland and Disney World. Psychology experts have said that adding deterrents to prevent visitors from jumping from high structures in public places has been helpful in lowering the number of deaths that happen.

University of California at Irvine psychiatrist Aaron Kheriaty, who specializes in the study of suicide prevention, said during an interview that the decision to take one’s life can often come down to his or her ability to gain access to high structures.

You can put up a barrier–if it slows them down, if it makes them think, if they have to struggle more to do it, that may be enough to prevent them in that moment,” he said.

He also said that the act of suicide is often an impulsive one and that adding deterrents in public places can often help to remove accessibility and allow time for an impulse to pass.

Reducing the Risks

Suicide is very often impulsive. The person is often ambivalent. People who jumped and survived, when asked what they were thinking, it’s typically, ‘What did I just do? I can’t believe I did this,’” Kheriaty said.

Such deterrents were installed at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, which was once a hotspot for suicides. The same was true of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Empire State Building, according to Dr. Kheriaty. That was before barriers were erected at the three locations.

eiffel tower

Credit: National Geographic

Suicides went down to very few to zero at these places when they did something about it,” he said.

Ferris’s suicide wasn’t related to a jump from a high structure, but the occurrence still underscores the need for a greater awareness of the importance of mental health and mental health care–minus the stigma that has long accompanied those things. Mental health need not be a taboo subject topic.

Because a majority of those who commit suicide often also suffer from varying depressive moods and disorders. They often battle intense feelings of isolation and loneliness. As such, there is a great need for the normalization of conversations and discussions about mental health issues, access to mental health care, suicide, suicidal ideation and thoughts, and depression.

Ultimately, such efforts can open the door where help and healing can begin.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, there is helpThere is hope at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The crisis center provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to civilians and veterans. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741-741 (Crisis Text Line). Those searching for help can also dial 988 to be relayed to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!

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