Authorities: Old West Show Uses Live Bullets, Injures Three Tourists

One of the participants in a mock Old West gun battle in South Dakota fired live ammunition instead of using blanks, wounding three tourists, authorities announced Friday.

More than 100 people attended the show a week ago staged by the Dakota Wild Bunch re-enactors, who perform several times a week in Hill City, a tourist town in the Black Hills.

Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom said information gathered by investigators will be given to state and federal prosecutors next week to determine whether criminal charges are filed.

"What it boils down to is was it accidental or was it intentional. It would be premature to speculate on that at this point," Thom said. "I can say there was not a specific target in the crowd, if you will."

A 49-year-old member of the re-enactor group fired four live rounds during the June 17 show, Thom said. No phone listing could be found for the man.

The bullets shattered a leg bone of Carrol Knutson, 65, of Birchwood, Minn.; hit the forearm and elbow of John Ellis, 48, an optometrist from South Connellsville, Penn.; and caused minor injuries to Jose Pruneda, 53, of Alliance, Neb.

There was no immediate comment from re-enactors. On its Facebook page, the group has said their members are not allowed to bring live rounds to performances.

Knutson said she was glad to get confirmation from authorities that her leg wound was caused by a lead bullet. The hospital already had determined that a bullet had hit her, and lead residue was found in the wound, she said.

Knutson said she is frustrated because the wound ended a family vacation early and will prevent her from doing many things this summer.

"It's a painful wound, so it's going to take a while to get back on my feet," she said. But she said she was relieved to know that the shooting wasn't done by some anonymous person in the audience.

"I just wanted to know it was never going to happen again to anybody," she said.

Ellis also has said doctors told him the injury to his arm and elbow was consistent with a regular gunshot wound.

Officials from Hill City and the area Chamber of Commerce were not immediately available for comment late Friday. They have said the simulated gun battles have been suspended at least until the sheriff's department investigation ends.

The mock shootouts between lawmen and outlaws have been held in Hill City for at least a couple of decades, and the Dakota Wild Bunch has been doing the show for about four years, officials have said.

Thom said investigators from the sheriff's office, the Rapid City Police Department and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives used information gathered in the investigation to recreate the shooting scene this week. They located three lead bullets in different locations and traced them to a .45-caliber handgun used in the mock shootout, he said.

Four spent casings and two unfired cartridges with lead bullets were located near the scene Friday afternoon, the sheriff said. The gun, the casings and the bullets will be sent the state crime lab in Pierre for testing, he said.