Conservative club at Park City High School worries it may have been target of bear spray release
A conservative student club at Park City High School says it may have been the target of an April 1 incident involving a student releasing bear spray in the school’s lecture hall.
The Turning Point Club, a chapter of a national organization that aims to spread conservative political ideas to youth, was set to host a speaker from Prager University in the lecture hall that evening. Prager University is a nonprofit that produces videos promoting conservative views. The event was relocated to Ecker Hill Middle School after officials evacuated PCHS following the bear spray release.
The club’s leaders said they felt targeted by the incident, which took place about five hours before the scheduled start time of the event.
“We can say with decent confidence that someone tried to keep away one of our speakers by pepper spraying the venue that he was going to speak at,” said Max Mobley, the club’s president.
The authorities have said a student admitted releasing the irritant, but no school or law enforcement officials have provided information about the student’s motives. Melinda Colton, spokesperson for the Park City School District, said the district continues to investigate the incident. Phil Kirk, captain of the Park City Police Department, said the department is also investigating the student but no charges have been filed.
The Park City Fire District and Police Department responded to the school after students and teachers reported respiratory distress from an unknown substance in the air. The district later determined that a student had released bear spray. Officials initially said the irritant was pepper spray. Medical personnel treated 14 people on scene, and one person was hospitalized.
Todd Hansen, director of buildings and grounds for the district, said the student released the bear spray into the lecture hall, mainly near the podium. The spray leaked under the back door and into the hallway near the theater classroom, where students and faculty members came into contact with it. Hansen said the lecture hall required professional cleaning. It was closed for the rest of the week.
Colton said the district cannot provide information about the student’s intent because it does not share information about disciplinary actions. She said there are several reasons the student could have released the bear spray, including as an April Fool’s Day joke.
The Turning Point Club is a new organization at the school that meets weekly, and the event on April 1 was its first major event. Will Witt, a social media influencer with Prager University, spoke at the event, which was titled “How to Bridge the Divide.”
Mobley said there was some worry about starting a conservative club in a liberal-leaning community and school, but he had not felt any pushback from students or community members until the bear spray release.
Ryan Zink, the incoming president for next school year, said the club did not receive any messages from the student who released the spray. Nonetheless, he and Mobley are uncomfortable knowing there is a chance one of their peers took violent action against the club.
Zink said the event still attracted a fair amount of people, from both the left and the right side of the political spectrum. He said the event went well despite the change of location.
He added that the bear spray incident makes him want to be more outspoken and continue growing the club.
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The Summit County Sheriff’s Office investigated a threatened shooting at Ecker Hill Middle School, determining the two boys were joking when they were overheard and that they had no access to weapons.