Woman sure she was hit by bullet at Old West show

Carrol Knutson says a hospital opinion and the hole in her leg are all the proof she needs to determine how she was injured last week while watching a mock Old West gunfight in South Dakota that was supposed to use blanks.

"There's no doubt it was a bullet," said Knutson, a 65-year-old Birchwood, Minn., resident who was one of more than 100 people who attended the free public event. "It's just where did the bullet come from? Who shot, and how did such a thing happen?"

Knutson said hospital staff wrote a diagnosis that concluded a bullet shattered her fibula, a bone in the lower leg. Lead residue was found in the wound, she said.

Knutson was one of three tourists hurt Friday evening during a mock gun battle staged by the Dakota Wild Bunch re-enactors, who use blanks when they perform several times a week on a street in Hill City, a tourist town in the Black Hills. John Ellis, 48, an optometrist from South Connellsville, Penn., was hit in the arm. Jose Pruneda, 52, of Alliance, Neb., suffered a minor wound.

Police aren't sure what happened. The lead investigator in the case, Lt. Marty Graves of the Pennington County Sheriff's Department, said Thursday the victims were hit by some kind of "projectile," but law officers have not concluded how that happened. The investigation might still take weeks, he said.

"I think we're slowly but surely narrowing things down, but haven't concluded anything at this point," Graves said. "We'll figure that out. I'm confident we'll figure that out."

The sheriff's department hopes to send physical evidence on Friday to the state crime lab in Pierre, but testing could take at least two weeks, Graves said. Evidence includes guns and ammunition used in the show and clothing worn by the victims.

Graves refused to speculate on whether a live cartridge was somehow placed in a gun or something else happened. Rumors and speculation just interfere with the investigation, he said.

"I'm not ruling anything out. I'm leaving it open for any possibilities," Graves said.

Investigators have asked members of the re-enactor group not to comment until the investigation is completed, Graves said.

On their Facebook page, the Dakota Wild Bunch Reinactors said they are not allowed to bring live rounds to their performances, which raise money for a charity. "This is what I can say about Friday night, all of our guns were using blanks," the message on the site said.

The simulated gun battles have been suspended at least until the sheriff's department investigation ends, said Brett McMacken, city administrator for Hill City. He said the city and the local Chamber of Commerce have an agreement to stage the show on a city street for tourists, and it's uncertain whether the show will ever be resumed.

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, McMacken said.

McMacken said it's too early to tell whether publicity about the injuries has affected tourist traffic in Hill City. He said he just hopes the victims recover quickly.

Ellis was still traveling back to Pennsylvania this week, but he said earlier that doctors had said the injury to his forearm and elbow was consistent with a regular gunshot wound.

Knutson said she attended the show with her husband, Don, and her 13-year-old grandson. She said she was hit at the end of the show when the bad guys tried to shoot the sheriff and many shots were fired.

"I was just turning to leave because it was very loud and I wasn't enjoying it very much," she said.

"I felt a very sharp pain in my leg and looked down and there was blood squirting out. I called for help. Initially, people I think thought it was a joke or something, and then finally somebody started responding and paying attention."

Knutson said her injury forced the family to cancel the rest of its vacation, which was to include whitewater rafting in Wyoming and a trip to Yellowstone National Park.

"We're looking at a lost summer. All of our travel plans and activities have been put on hold because I can't walk. I can't do anything right now. Knutson said.

However, she said a local campground sent her flowers, made sure the family had a place to stay and refused to let them pay.

Knutson said she hopes the Hill City shootout is cancelled for good.

"We're extremely grateful my grandson wasn't hurt. There were many children in that audience sitting on curbs that could be dead right now. It was a pretty horrific thing," she said.

She said her grandson will get over his disappointment on the early end to the vacation, but it might take him a while to recover from the emotional shock of seeing his grandmother hurt.

Meanwhile, Knutson is still dealing with severe pain in her leg. "You can only imagine what something like that feels like," she said.