ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) — Authorities are investigating the release of a gas that sickened several hotel guests and forced thousands of people — many dressed as cartoon animals — to evacuate the building.
Although some participants at the Midwest FurFest convention thought the mass evacuation early Sunday was just part of the fun, investigators are treating it as a criminal matter.
Nineteen people who became nauseous or dizzy were treated at local hospitals. Within hours, emergency workers decontaminated the Hyatt Regency O'Hare and allowed people back inside.
The Rosemont Public Safety Department said someone apparently intentionally left a powder that appeared to contain chlorine in a ninth-floor hotel stairway, causing the gas to spread. On Monday, the department would only say that the investigation was continuing and declined further comment.
Organizers tried to reassure the participants that the evacuation would not overshadow the FurFest event, in which attendees celebrate animals that are anthropomorphic — meaning they've been given human characteristics — through art, literature and performance. Many of the costumed attendees refer to themselves as "furries."
"In walk all these people dressed like dogs and foxes," said Pieter Van Hiel, a 40-year-old technical writer from Hamilton, Canada, chuckling as he recalled the crowd being herded into the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, where a dog show was taking place over the weekend.
Kit McCreedy, a 28-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin, said he didn't think the incident would further disrupt Midwest FurFest, which was in its final day.
"I think we'll recover from this," said McCreedy, his fox tail swinging behind him as he headed back inside. "People are tired but they're still full of energy."
Others said they didn't know why anyone would try to upset the convention that includes dance contests and panel discussions on making the costumes. Some pointed out that the brightly colored outfits are made from fake fur and foam.
"Nobody uses real fur," said Frederic Cesbron, a 35-year-old forklift operator who flew to Chicago from his home in France. He attended the convention dressed in a fox outfit that he said is worth about $3,000.
"Everyone is from a different background," said Michael Lynch, a 25-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin, who, like his buddy, McCreedy, dressed as a fox. "Nobody judges anybody. It's nice to come to a place like that."
Or, as Van Hiel put it, "It's kind of weird, but it's not weird here."