“Wands, sonic screwdrivers, plushies, masks, fairy wings, empty holsters, signs attached to costumes, fur suits, cardboard made costumes and non-weapon props, dishware associated with costumes, empty quivers, hats and helmets, Power Ranger Morphers, and umbrellas, by example, are allowed.”
– from the updated Phoenix Comicon prop policy
Fairy wings and dishware were not in dispute on the first day of Phoenix Comicon 2017.
By day 2, however, a lot had changed.
The Punisher vs. The Power Ranger
The event started out like past cons. The doors of the Phoenix Convention Center opened the morning of Thursday, May 25, and attendees began filing in.
Among them was a man of about thirty with black clothing concealing body armor, a large bag that no one looked inside, and a full event pass.
Later we would learn that his name was Mathew Enrique Navarro Sterling, but he was under the delusion that he was actually The Punisher, a Marvel Comics character focused on vigilante justice. A reminder on his phone said “kill JDF.”
Carrying four loaded guns, a knife, pepper spray, and throwing stars, he went up to the second floor of the convention center.
Then, in perhaps the modern equivalent of Bond-villain-esque monologuing, Mathew started sending Facebook messages about his plans to an acquaintance.
His alleged targets on site included police officers and actor Jason David Frank, who is known for playing the Green Ranger in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and would be at the Con all four days for photo ops, autograph signings, and a Friday panel.
Cops and Cosplayers
On the receiving end of the messages was Rayko Takahashi (professionally known simply as “Rayko”), a singer, composer, personal trainer, and avid cosplayer in Los Angeles. She’s also the first hero of this story.
The two had only met once, in 2014. Over the next year, they exchanged friendly messages about his fitness goals. Then, one night after a concert, Rayko got off stage to find her phone full of messages from Mathew. His tone had changed, and he was threatening to harm another cosplayer. Rayko stopped communicating with him, gave the woman a heads up, and contacted a friend who is a police officer.
Even though nothing happened then, when Rayko received violence-threatening Facebook messages from Mathew on May 25 of this year, she took them seriously, again contacting Sgt. Scott Nichols of the Hawthorne Police Department in California.
He figured out that Mathew was likely to be at Phoenix Comicon and called the Phoenix Police Department.
Eleven minutes after the call came in from Hawthorne PD, Phoenix Police had located, subdued, and arrested Mathew without anyone being injured.
He plead “not guilty” at his preliminary hearing and is currently awaiting trial for attempted murder and other charges. His bond is set at $1,000,000.
The incident made headlines internationally, and Jason David Frank has been using his platform to encourage comic cons everywhere to increase their security procedures.
So. Suspect detained. The citizens of Phoenix are safe again, and Day 2 the Con could resume as usual, right? Wrong.
In response to the incident, Phoenix Comicon, the convention center, and police department announced that the next day, and for the remainder of the Con, entrance points would be limited, bags would be checked, people would be metal detector wanded, and replica/prop weapons would not be allowed in – including “Weapons from fictional sources (Light sabers, plasma weapons, laser, phasers etc.)” – and could only be sold if exhibitors immediately wrapped them up afterward.
With fewer entrances and additional security screening, lines wrapped around the building the next morning. Unexpected waiting outside during the heat of the day the Friday of Phoenix Comicon seemed familiar from last year’s registration issue, but this time all con-goers were affected.
Later in the day, more security personnel were brought in and the lines moved more quickly the rest of the Con.
Because it’s Comicon, and people wear all sorts of costumes with all sort of props, the ban required some amusing clarifications, like the quote at the beginning of this post.
“Ghostbuster proton packs are allowed however the Neutrino wand will need to be disconnected or permanently attached to the pack.”
Attendee and vendor reactions to the prop ban were very mixed. Some saw it as an important security measure, while others felt it was an unnecessary damper on their Con experience. A lightsaber vendor packed up and left.
Some cosplayers came up with creative alternatives, replacing props with funny signs or balloons.
One comment thread in response to Phoenix Comicon’s Facebook announcement in particular seemed to exemplify the points of view*:
“stomping a bee that already stung you does absolutely nothing to prevent other bees from stinging you. just like this fake weapons ban won’t do anything AT ALL to keep another lunatic from waltzing in like the Punisher.” –Trey Lee Williamson
“I don’t understand how very few commenters on this seem to realize how severe this whole thing is and giving up a stupid cosplay prop for safety measures is not the end of the world.” –Salvatore Roulston
“I live in Washington and am appalled and prop ban just lost you thousands of revenue for next years con. Punish hundreds who have worked hours on their cosplays because of one Lunatic.. thanks for your concern for our safety but no thanks for tickets next year. 😡” –Ashley Marie
“I’m a cosplayer from Washington and this is still honestly one of the best shows I’ve attended. I thank them for their quick response in light of the event that took place. Was it inconvenient, yes, but the show could just as easily been cancelled. Instead they came up with this solution. I’m appreciative that no one was hurt and that the con went on for the rest of the weekend. Count your blessings folks.” –Muni Moore
Indeed. Whether you agree with the response or not, our quick-thinking heroes gave us more blessings to count.
*Comment spelling and punctuation have not been corrected but some were shortened.
Photo of Rayko via rayko.com.