It’s still a how-dun-it.
Three days after environmental activists rappelled from the upper deck on a nationally televised Monday Night Football game, the Carolina Panthers remained uncertain Thursday how the group entered Bank of America Stadium with climbing gear.
Panthers security director Lance Emory and his team continued to review surveillance video, but they had not yet spotted the four activists entering the stadium, said team spokesman Steven Drummond.
With the Panthers enjoying a perfect record, the best start in the team’s history, attendance at the game was 74,136, making the review difficult.
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“They’re poring over the security tapes, but the problem is finding them with all those people going in,” Drummond said.
Early in the third quarter, John Nicholson, 29, of Lewisburg, Pa., and Erica Madrid, 35, of Washington, D.C., went over the rail in Section 538.
They unfurled a banner calling on Charlotte-based Bank of America, which has naming rights on the stadium, to quit financing Dominion Resources, which is building a liquefied natural gas facility in Cove Point, Md., on the Chesapeake Bay.
Nicholson and Madrid dangled for about 30 minutes. After they refused to come down, Charlotte firefighters lowered them.
They were arrested by police along with two confederates, Angela Vogel, 30, of Philadelphia, and David Baghdadi, 38, of Hot Springs, N.C.
They were charged with trespassing and resisting police and were released after posting bail, except for Baghdadi, who remained in the Mecklenburg County jail on Thursday.
Authorities have determined the four purchased tickets to the game through the NFL Ticket Exchange, but how they got the climbing gear inside through bag screening remains a mystery.
“If you see a rope, that should raise red flags,” Drummond said.
Wanded by security
Madrid said the four entered the stadium with other fans. She said she carried a clear plastic bag into the game.
“I didn’t break the rules,” Madrid told the Observer, but she wouldn’t elaborate on how the ropes got past security.
“I went through security, and they used a wand on me. Their security equipment is set up to find stuff that’s dangerous.”
Photographs show Madrid and the others were dressed in baggy clothes, hoodies, rain ponchos and hats.
Easily hidden gear
Karsten Delap, co-owner of Fox Mountain Guides, which leads rock climbing expeditions at Chimney Rock State Park and other destinations in the highlands, said the gear required for the stunt could easily have been contained in a small package.
“It would have fit into what they call a man purse,” said Delap, who has 15 years of climbing experience. He said the rigs for both could have been purchased commercially for about $300.
Harnesses could be easily concealed beneath their hoodies and jackets, said Delap, and the metal attachments would be where their belt buckles lie in case they were wanded.
Down in front
About four minutes into the third quarter, spectator Josh Deese of Greenville, S.C., saw four people on the rail in Section 538 stand up and begin fiddling with ropes. Deese has dabbled in rock climbing and noticed they appeared to have serious climbing equipment.
Fans sitting behind the four told them to move to the side so they could see the action on the field. But, Deese said, they didn’t budge.
It was just a crazy night. I knew Monday Night Football would be exciting, but I didn’t expect to see people rappelling off the side of the stadium.
Josh Deese, spectator from Greenville, S.C.
Vogel and Baghdadi anchored the ropes to the seats and themselves with carabiners, metal loops with a spring-loaded gate. Then they sat on the concrete bracing their backs against the upper deck ledge.
Nicholson and Madrid clicked into the ropes, climbed over the ledge and began descending, then slowly unfurled their banner.
“They had this whole system ready,” said Deese. “It took them literally 20 seconds to stand up and rappel off the top. … It happened so fast, they just took everybody by surprise. No one knew what to do.”
Thoughts of terrorists
Below in section 339, Danielle Wilson of Charlotte caught something in the corner of her eye and glanced up.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Wilson said. “It looked like they were carrying a sign, or a banner.”
As they began their slow descent, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police came to clear fans away from the rappellers.
“I heard one of the cops say that the female had to come down first,” Wilson said.
“She was taking a selfie and clearly enjoying herself. She had a Bluetooth in her ear and was making a phone call. I could see her talking.”
Fans rousted from their seats turned their animosity away from the Indianapolis Colts and booed the demonstrators. “Losers!” cried one.
Two spectators behind her decided to leave, Wilson said. “I heard them say, ‘Maybe this is some kind of terrorist situation.’ That thought entered my mind once or twice.”
After the terrorist attacks in September 2001, NFL stadiums began screening fans with metal detectors and pat-downs upon entry. Security was increased after the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013.
Under new rules, fans could bring in only clear plastic or clear vinyl bags no larger than 12 inches by 6 inches by 12 inches.
Banned at Bank of America stadium are nontransparent bags, backpacks, camera cases, cinch bags, computer bags, diaper bags and fanny packs. A variety of other items are also prohibited ranging from umbrellas to selfie sticks.
BofA protest target
Monday’s protest was just the latest in a long line of demonstrations aimed at the Charlotte-based Bank of America.
In recent years, the nation’s No. 2 bank by assets has faced protests at its headquarters, annual shareholder meetings, branches and other venues over foreclosures, its financing of the coal industry and various other matters.
Drummond, the Panthers spokesman, said no special security or screening changes are planned at the stadium for Sunday’s home game against the Green Bay Packers.
But he said that procedures and policies would be reviewed with those working the three stadium gates.
“We’ll stick to the league policy,” he said, “and re-emphasize training.”
Rick Rothacker and researcher Maria David contributed.