The New Mexican, October 27, 1999, by Kristen Davenport
Violent ‘hell house’ designed to scare audience into accepting salvation, organizers say
A Santa Fe Christian group is using a re-enactment of The Columbine High School killings to scare teen-agers and others into accepting Jesus so they don’t end up in hell.
The Potter’s House Christian Center is staging a haunted house at the Santa Fe Fairgrounds through Halloween, and pastor Henry Houghton admits the church is trying to panic people into thinking about death – and God.
The haunted house features a man who dies of a heroin overdose, a woman killed after playing with a Ouija board at a party, and a recreated Columbine High School library massacre scene, complete with ear-splitting gunshots.
The haunted house also has a special-effects graveyard where all the people who’ve died in the event so far come back to tell onlookers what it’s like to be in hell.
“It’s so hot,” the heroin addict moans. “It’s too late for me, but it’s not too late for you.”
As onlookers leave the haunted house, they are confronted by Potter’s House members preaching at them to accept God.
“We’re doing this to present the gospel,” Houghton said. “It’s the world we live in. Do we talk about never-never land or reality? Yes, we’re trying to scare them. But they see twice this much violence on TV every week.”
An evangelical church in Albuquerque has come under fire from residents there this week for staging a haunted house – called “Hell House” – that shows a gay man who has died of AIDS and a girl who died from an abortion, both of whom are sent to hell for their deeds.
Protesters have staged rallies outside the Albuquerque haunted house, but the Santa Fe Potter’s House organizers say their creepy Halloween event isn’t nearly as politically controversial.
P.J. Montaño, 16, plays the role of gunman in the high school library. Most of the Columbine victims were killed in the school’s library.
With a face painted white, Montaño storms into the room and kills students while laughing maniacally, including a girl acting as Cassie Bernall, the Columbine student who was rumored to have responded with “yes” when a Colorado gunman asked her if she believed in God and was then killed. Bernall was one of a dozen students killed last April at the school shooting in Littleton, Colo.
Police and witnesses have later disputed that Bernall was the student asked whether she believed in God, though Bernall’s parents have written a book based on the original version of the story.
In the Potter’s House re-enactment, the gunman also asks the girl why she believes such nonsense and throws a Bible violently on the table before shooting her in the head.
At one point, he waves the gun at onlookers.
“You never know where death is,” Montaño said before Tuesday night’s haunted house. “We might not have another tomorrow. Death is a reality. We want to ask people: ‘Are you ready for it?’ “
The Potter’s House event (motto: “It will scare the hell out of you”) was almost three hours late beginning its first show Tuesday night. People started lining up at 7 p.m., and the crowd, mostly church members, grew to about 200. By the time doors opened at 9:45 p.m., more than half the crowd had left. The church is expecting about 500 people a night to walk through the displays.
Santa Fe Potter’s House has been putting on a haunted house for nearly a decade, with different scenes – but the same hellish theme – every year.
In 1997, community members were angry when Potter’s House staged a scene of a young boy being molested by his father, and the boy later raping a girl before chopping off her head.
Charlie Oviedo, the church’s organizer for the event, has said he was one of the first in the nation to promote the alternative hell houses. The concept of the hell house has spread to most of the United States and several foreign countries.
The haunted house continues tonight and through Sunday beginning at 7:15 p.m. at the rodeo grounds. Admission is free.