With Halloween coming up, spooky attractions are popping up across the country. But at an Ohio haunted house, the promise to “provide a uniquely terrifying experience” became all too real after one of the actors got a little too much into character.
Karen Bednarski, the boy’s mother, told The Washington Post on Sunday that her son Frank had arrived at a popular horror attraction in Berea, Ohio, on Sept. 18 with his sister and some family friends. They were walking over to one of the five haunted houses at 7 Floors of Hell when the actor — identified as 22-year-old Christopher Pogozelski — approached them and tried to scare them.
It was all fun and games until the knife he carried proved to be real.
“He was scraping the knife on the ground and playing around with them,” Bednarski said. “And my son said to him, ‘I’m not afraid, your knife is fake.’ So the man was like, ‘Oh, it’s real. Trust me, it’s real.’ And that’s when he started poking it at his feet multiple times until he stabbed him.”
Police said Pogozelski has been charged with negligent assault, a third-degree misdemeanor. According to a police report obtained by The Post, the 22-year-old admitted to authorities, who confiscated the weapon, that “using the knife was not a good idea.”
Pogozelski did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Post on Sunday and it’s unclear whether he has an attorney. Rodney Geffert, president of Night Scream Entertainment, which owns the attraction, told The Post that Pogozelski was fired after the incident. Geffert said the actor was upset over what happened and “apologized nonstop.”
“It wasn’t intentional,” Geffert said. “The actor stayed by the boy’s side the whole time.”
Geffert said that while Pogozelski was working, the actor went to his car to take out the Bowie knife — a weapon named after Jim Bowie, a prominent knife fighter who died at the Alamo. While both Geffert and Bednarski said the knife was dull, Berea Police Lt. Tom Walker told The Post in a written message that the 12-inch blade “was sharp enough to cut and cause injury” — effectively cutting through the boy’s pair of red Crocs.
The reasoning behind Pogozelski’s decision to carry a real knife instead of the props used by other actors remains unclear to police.
“I am not sure why he was using a real Bowie knife rather than a rubber prop,” Walker told The Post. “We have not responded to any similar incidents at the haunted house.”
For 21 years, 7 Floors of Hell has been renowned for its gore, rating among the “wickedest haunted houses in America” and winning multiple awards. Geffert said his workers are not allowed to touch customers and can only use the rubber props at the haunted house in Berea, a suburb of Cleveland.
“None of our actors use anything like that. It’s against park policy,” Geffert said. “He got it out without our knowledge. It’s not our fault whatsoever.”
Officers arrived at the scene shortly after receiving a call from Bednarski, who was not present at the time of the incident. After workers disinfected the cut and bandaged the boy’s toe, the mother and son continued through the haunted house that night.
While Geffert maintains that the group “had a great time,” Bednarski said they stayed because she not only wanted to make her son happy after a “traumatic experience” but also wanted to make sure no other incidents would surface at the park.
Bednarski said that she was in the process of filing a lawsuit against 7 Floors of Hell and that she wants to make sure something like this never happens to another child. She added that she has called for an investigation into the business.
While haunted houses promise fun with fake blood and monsters, their frightful nature has occasionally transcended into real terror. Last year, one person was wounded in a shooting at a Halloween attraction in North Carolina. The following day, a dispute over cutting in line led to a fatal shooting in Michigan.
Berea police said that Pogozelski’s mother, the owner of the Bowie knife, wanted it back.
“The mother of Christopher wanted the knife back and I advised dispatch to tell her the knife would be in police property,” the police report states.