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Willowick festival makes safety changes after last year’s violence, arrests

By Tino Bovenzi,


WILLOWICK, Ohio (WJW) – A popular Catholic festival is back operating with some big changes this year after violence caused headaches for police and the church.

St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church’s Homecoming Festival will operate without carnival rides or games this year to increase safety and reduce the risk of violence.

“Last year they had to shut it down early both Friday and Saturday nights and then Sunday night came where it just turned into a mob mentality with people fighting all over the place,” Willowick Police Chief Brian Turner said.

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Police had to use pepper ball guns and call for mutual aid from five other departments after thing got out of hand at last year’s 30th anniversary event.

“People cleared out, then they were just filling out into the streets in the areas in the neighborhood,” Turner said. “So, it wasn’t like the problem just went away, it just kind of dispersed throughout the city. It made it very, very hectic and obviously the concern is we don’t want a repeat of this in future years.”

St. Mary Magdalene views last year’s violence as an anomaly.

“Last year was our 30th and it was the first year that we had something like that,” co-chair Rosemarie Sisler said. “We have a pretty good track record.”

But to ensure a safe and fun event, changes to the format have been made. Having no carnival rides eliminates the conflict between ride lines and people line-jumping or cutting.

Sisler said there will still be plenty to offer this weekend.

“Come out if you’re hungry, come eat,” she said. “Come out and listen to the music. If you want to try to win some great prizes, come out to our Chinese auction.”

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There is a kids area inside as well as Monte Carlo for card players.

Chief Turner said if you plan on coming to the festival to cause trouble, you will be removed.

“We don’t want people coming there who have no intention in partaking in any of the festival activities,” he said. “If you’re coming to cause problems, we are going to boot you out, we’re going to arrest you or get you on your way. We don’t want that.”

The homecoming festival runs through Sunday, June 4 at 32114 Vine St in Willowick. Learn more about the festival here .

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