This article originally appeared on Outside
On Sunday, October 22, Touchstone's Hollywood Boulders management were made aware that a member of the gym had suggested, in threatening text messages sent to an unnamed acquaintance, that they were "strapped" with a weapon and "wanted scalps." The member went on to write "god has spoken" to him and that he "already has a kill order." The recipient of the messages was then directed to "avoid the gym for a while."
"These tourists and lames need to know what war really is," stated one of the member's messages. "[I've] been way too lenient with all the wannabes here. no mas. ... [I'll] take out the Koreans first so y'all take things more seriously."
When the recipient of the message asked, "wdym stay away from the gym? Everything okay?" the member replied, "i'll know soon enough."
Hollywood Boulders appears to have been the likely target, however the member never named the gym outright, meaning that all SoCal gyms were potentially at risk.
After receiving this information on October 22, Touchstone management immediately notified the local police. A letter from Touchstone's CEO, Mark Melvin, stated that, "After reviewing the threat, the police deemed the texts as not a threat to the gym. The police suggested we take no further action and advised us not to alarm our staff and community. ... The entire series of events is all related to personal communication between individual members."
Touchstone did pursue a restraining order against the gym member, but, as a business, couldn't legally obtain one. His membership was, however, cancelled and he was informed that he was banned from all Touchstone gyms. Management also hired security guards for all SoCal gym locations. Adhering to local police recommendations, Touchstone staff were not notified of the threats until October 25.
Alarmed, a few anonymous Touchstone staff members have since published an open letter to Touchstone management, writing that, "In withholding this information, we feel that the company violated our rights to informed consent."
According to the letter, the member who made the threatening statements visited the gym between the 22nd and the 25th before his membership was canceled. The letter states: "The company assured us that the situation was somehow under control; the fact that the member easily entered several gyms while shooting threat investigations were active speaks to the contrary."
After being informed of the threatening messages on the 25th, staffers demanded to read the texts. Management refused, so the staff walked out of the gym, and Hollywood Boulders closed early. The next day, with an armed security guard present, the gym re-opened.
Gym members were also apparently un-informed. A reddit user posted: "Anyone know what's going on?!" referring to the changed hours and presences of the security guard. Another user replied: "I asked an employee why there was an armed guard stationed at the desk. I was apparently lied to when I was told 'because of the shoplifters' in the area..."
Staff members refused to return, and several quit outright. Although Touchstone gave employees "hazard pay" for the 25th, staffers have not been paid since. Authors of the open letter wrote: "They have essentially told us in one breath 'we care about you, and really value your safety and health,' and in the next breath: 'as long as you are away from work, you will financially suffer the consequences on your own.'"
Before returning to work, gym staff are demanding four things. They would like to be assured the member has been reached via emergency mental health professionals and to know that legal action has been taken against the member. They would like full-term security locks to be installed in the doors, allowing entry only via key cards or a buzzer. They demand transparency to future threats. And finally, the staffers would like back-pay or hazard pay for the days in which they worked or missed in which their safety was at risk.
Melvin, in his statement to members, wrote: "Countless hours were spent at all levels of Touchstone to understand the facts, work with the police, and use the best legal options to ensure the safety of our staff and customers. Given the tragic state of gun violence in our nation, we understand why some members of our community were alarmed to learn about some details of these events through various online channels.
"We are working with staff to ensure they feel safe to return to work so that Hollywood Boulders can resume its regular hours. We love and value our community. You're the reason we exist."
Climbing has reached out to Touchstone management and staff as well as the LAPD for more information.
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