ORLANDO, Fla. — A handful of protestors gathered outside the Orlando FreeFall site at ICON Park after they discovered the memorial for Tyre Sampson had been downsized and hidden from some tourists’ view.
Activists said they discovered the smaller memorial during a routine check Sunday night. However, they were more disturbed by a new mesh fence that had been placed in front of the objects. While a gap between the old and new barriers existed, the gap and the majority of the memorial was only visible from a side street.
“For no reason and without permission,” James Wilson, with the advocacy group Juneteenth Project Coalition, said.
14-year old Sampson fell from the ride to his death in early 2022, which was captured on video by tourists. Later, reports showed Sampson was well over the ride’s weight limit, and someone had altered his seat to show the harness was safely locked at an angle that left a seven-inch gap between the harness and the seat.
The normal gap, programmed by the manufacturer, should have been closer to three inches.
Both the ride and Sampson’s memorial have stood since his death as lawsuits move forward in court. Activists have been calling for the ride to come down and a permanent memorial to be installed in Sampson’s honor.
Orlando Slingshot, which owns the FreeFall ride, took credit for the changes. An attorney disputed the activists’ claims, saying both ICON Park and the family had given the group permission to clean and consolidate the memorial before they touched it.
“Memorial items that were removed have been saved for delivery to the family’s representatives,” Trevor Arnold, attorney for Orlando Slingshot, wrote in a statement.
The statement didn’t mention the fence.
“It lets them know that we care,” Tina Wilson explained, when asked why it was important that Sampson’s face remained visible alongside the now-closed ride. “In Orange County, we care that a child died here in our community. This is a tourist destination, not a death destination.’”
Shortly after, the Wilsons, along with others who had gathered, began moving the posters and items that remained to the new fence, again putting Sampson’s face in front of tourists.
Eyewitness News has reached back out to Orlando Slingshot’s representatives for clarification about the fence.
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