A disturbing picture is emerging about events Friday night that led to the Florida State Fair shutting down early.
Authorities describe scenes where hundreds of teens went on a chaotic spree of stampeding, shoving, and fighting.
The situation was so out of control, and deputies were so overwhelmed and outmatched, that the commander on the scene asked fair officials to shut the whole thing down.
"The commander said it was one of the worst things he's seen in his law enforcement career, and it's why he made the decision he made, and he was adamant about it. There was no room in his mind to let it go any longer," said Colonel Jim Previtera, with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
Previtera called the situation "wilding," a slang term that refers to groups of people going around threatening, robbing, or attacking others.
The sheriff's office estimates that around 200 to 300 people were involved in the stampeding. They eventually ejected 99 people, and arrested 12.
Previtera said the sheriff's office thought it was prepared because the events that unfolded have become a "tradition" of sorts among teens on the first Friday night of the fair. He said long-timers at the sheriff's office say the "wilding" has gone on as far back as the 90s.
Last year, 68 people were ejected when a similar scene unfolded.
"What happens traditionally on the first night...it is a student armband night...these kids get together and they'll start with a small group of kids and they'll begin to do what they call ‘wilding' or ‘raging' and what they do is they'll start to run. The small group will start to run and everyone will join them, and pretty quickly it becomes a stampede," Previtera said.
Typically, Previtera said the plan is to place deputies up and down the midway to disrupt the pattern of running that leads to the stampedes and rioting.
But Friday night, he said there were groups of 150 to 200 kids fighting at any given time -- groups so large that deputies could not control them. In some cases, their safety was at risk.
"Some deputies were literally attacked by mobs," Previtera said. "Some individuals escaped custody because the deputies had to disengage and back off."
Two deputies were battered, and others had items thrown at them. One woman in a wheelchair was tipped over and had her purse stolen; a young man trying to leave the fair was knocked unconscious, Previtera said.
At 9 p.m. the commander called on the fair operators to close it down.
"The commander's decision to close the fair was made on the basis that the good guys were far outnumbered, and that we needed to, in the interest of public safety, we needed to get it closed."
Now, investigators believe there were many victims who were attacked that night who have yet to come forward. They are urged to call the Hillsborough Sheriff's office to give a full account of what happened to them.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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