Amway Center Exec On Thwarting Alleged Lana Del Rey Kidnapping: ‘Take Every Threat Seriously’

Lana Del Rey
Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
– Lana Del Rey
at the Prudential Center in New Jersey Jan. 19.

Allen Johnson didn’t take any chances. Amway Center’s chief venues officer took immediate action after a potential threat surfaced on social media against pop star Lana Del Rey before her Feb. 2 concert in Orlando.  

Johnson was not about to let another tragedy unfold after 49 people were killed at Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub by a lone gunman in June 2016. It represented the worst mass shooting in U.S. history before 58 were killed last fall at a country music festival in Las Vegas. Two days previous to the Pulse Nightclub shootings, singer Christina Grimmie was shot and killed by a deranged fan at a meet-and-greet at the city’s Plaza Live Theater.

It was against this backdrop that Johnson quickly developed a comprehensive plan with the Orlando Police Department, which included additional protection for the artist and putting the arena on lockdown mode.

Johnson shared the experience with VenuesNow Senior Editor Don Muret during last week’s Pollstar Live! Conference in Los Angeles.

“About 11 a.m. [day of show], I received a call from my security team and from my Orlando police liaison, informing me that they had received via social media a credible threat to the artist’s safety,” Johnson said.

“The difference between a threat and a credible threat is that they looked into the background of the individual who is making the threat and whether he has the criminal history or potential to do something.”

After confirming a credible threat, Amway Center staff instituted a lockdown of the building. Over the next several hours, up to showtime, anybody leaving and returning to the building, including Johnson, had to go through security and the metal detectors in place at the gates.

In addition, police increased its presence outside the arena prior to the concert.

Amway Center – Amway Center

“We had uniformed SWAT teams out front,” Johnson said. “We do that now for some events and all Magic games … just to have a presence. People have to remember that we’ve had some incidents in Orlando’s history and we take these threats very seriously.”

That explains why the arena and city police acted swiftly and provided Del Rey with an additional layer of security starting at her hotel and continuing through the end of her show. Those measures were done in conjunction with her tour management, personal security force and Live Nation, the promoter.

The plan worked. The suspect, Michael Shawn Hunt, a resident of Greater Tampa, was arrested a few blocks from the arena before the concert. He was charged with attempted kidnapping with a weapon and aggravated stalking with a credible threat. Hunt had also served five prison terms before his most recent arrest, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Orlando police intelligence played a key role by identifying the suspect after friending him on Facebook, where he had posted a series of disturbing comments about Lana Del Rey, including the possibility of kidnapping her.

Police were alerted to Hunt after a separate Facebook friend of the suspect notified law enforcement in the Tampa area about the troubling posts. In turn, local officials contacted Orlando police, Johnson said.

Authorities could not find Hunt before the concert after police visited a residence that turned out to be his former home, Johnson said. They had the make and model of his vehicle, but Hunt did not drive to the concert. Instead, he took an Uber ride to the show.

Police were ready for him. Photographs of Hunt had been distributed at every checkpoint outside the arena and at the gates. When Hunt was apprehended, he had a concert ticket and was found with a small pocket knife.

“He was stopped two blocks from the venue in an Uber pool lane where they drop people off,” Johnson said. “Some media misreported it, that it was [just] outside the venue. He never got out of the car. We took care of him and the threat was eliminated.”

For Johnson, who runs multiple city-owned facilities, including Amway Center, it helped that he has a strong relationship with Orlando law enforcement. Both Johnson and Police John Chief Mina report to the same boss, Mayor Buddy Dyer.

“What’s important in a situation like this is to have complete, transparent communication,” Johnson said. “Law enforcement sometimes isn’t willing to share a lot of stuff because they feel like it hinders them from doing their job. I can call the police chief [directly], whereas if you’re at a venue that’s privately managed, they may not have that same relationship.”

In the end, “take every threat seriously and don’t discount it,” Johnson said. “If you get a credible threat, you have to handle it with a high degree of importance.”