Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Easter Bunny mall brawl shocks bystanders

By Grant Boxleitner

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Some young children who saw the Easter Bunny this weekend at Edison Mall no longer see him as the lovable cuddly rabbit that delivers eggs and candy.

This 6-foot-2-inch, 280-pound bunny — also known as Fort Myers resident Arthur J. McClure, 22 — is facing battery charges after he allegedly punched a woman in the back of the neck and head during a fight near a photography set.

In boxing circles, that’s considered a rabbit punch.

McClure denied he punched the woman when he was contacted by a reporter from news-press.com Monday. He said he was trying to split up two women who were fighting, including his wife, exhibit manager Crystal Frechette. There was no way, McClure said, to satisfy the long line of people who wanted their children’s picture taken as the exhibit was preparing close. McClure said he was hot and couldn’t stand being in the bunny costume any longer.

“My shirt was soaked with sweat,” McClure said. “I almost threw up.”

The melee shocked customers, mall employees and the company who hired McClure and Frechette. Mall management issued an apology to parents and children.

Golden, Colo.-based Noerr Programs Corp., which contracted with the mall to run the Easter bunny photo set, fired McClure and Frechette on Monday.

“(The terminations) were a result of the incident that was embarrassing and uncomfortable for the mall patrons,” Noerr spokesman Charlie Russell said.

The incident began shortly before 8 p.m. Saturday when victim Erin Johansson of Cape Coral was waiting in line with her family and several others at a public Easter Bunny photo set near entrance G.

When the exhibit closed about 10 minutes early, some of the customers in line, including Johansson, got upset and questioned Frechette, 25, police said. The two women got into an argument before Frechette allegedly punched Johansson in the right side of her face, according to police reports. Before the punch, Johansson said she told Frechette it wasn’t 8 p.m. yet, but she and McClure started walking away with people still in line.

“At that point she sucker punched me in the jaw,” Johansson said. “She had the worst attitude, and I don’t think she wanted to be confronted.”

After the punch, Frechette pulled Johansson’s hair, and they both fell to the ground, according to arrest reports. That’s when McClure, who was still in the Easter Bunny costume, came to his wife’s aid. McClure took off the head part of the costume and then punched Johansson in the back of the head, police said.

Dozens of people watched the brawl, including about 15 children who were still in line, witnesses said. Johansson said many children had the look of “shock” on their faces. She said she doesn’t know how to explain what happened with the Easter Bunny to her 3-year-old niece.

Johansson was holding an ice pack on her face when officers arrived, police reports show. She said she underwent a CAT scan at Lee Memorial Hospital, which showed no internal injuries.

“It was horrible,” said Robert Johansson, whose son Victor, 8, also witnessed the fight. “They were trying to shield the kids from it. Now my son thinks the Easter Bunny is bad and went to jail.”

But McClure and Frechette tell a different story. They said the customers began yelling at them when they started to close down, then followed them as they walked toward a nearby mall office.

Frechette accused Johansson of poking her in the chest and said she was in front of a group of angry people. Frechette, who acknowledged she punched Johansson, said she got scared when customers started “calling me names and swearing at me.”

By the time the fight began, McClure said he had worn the bunny costume for nine hours, sweat through his shirt and nearly passed out.

“I just tried to break it up,” McClure said. “That’s when two guys grabbed me. I wish people were more understanding.”

McClure and Frechette — both of 3840 Central Ave., No. 208 — were charged with misdemeanor battery and disturbing the peace, police said. McClure’s occupation listed on the arrest report reads “Easter Bunny,” but the two said they used to work at Silver Spoon/The American Cafe in the mall.

Frechette said officers didn’t listen to their side of the story, saying she suffered a bruise on the back of her leg during the scuffle and were threatened by the group. They plan to retain a lawyer.

The couple were released from jail Sunday and have a May 2 county court hearing.


  1. “It was horrible,” said Robert Johansson, whose son Victor, 8, also witnessed the fight. “They were trying to shield the kids from it. Now my son thinks the Easter Bunny is bad and went to jail.”

    All I have to say, is that's what you get lady for lying to your kid about the existence of the Easter Bunny. I don't think it's right for parents to fool their kids into believing in these holiday icons just to have them find out years later, typically in the most scarring of manner, that it was all a sham.

    This story could easily be titled "A Very Jerry Easter." Hee hee =)

  2. It does sound like an ep of Seinfeld with Elaine's boyfriend Puddy as the Bunny. :-)

    I'm kind of undecided on telling kids the truth on fictional characters. The characters themselves are baloney, but really they symbolically serve a purpose and foster creativioty amongst our youngfolk, even if it all turns out to be a big lie in the end.

  3. As my mama still tells me (here at age 39), be careful...people out "there" are mean. It is indeed true. I am shocked time and again at just how rude and inconsiderate people can be. Why were these parents waiting until the last minute to see the Easter Bunny? Say the Easter Bunny really was feeling sick, was wet from sweat, or just needing a break for a few minutes...or they decided that they needed to close the exhibit a few minutes early because of all these claims-what right did the woman have to berate them because of it? Let's get real-we are talking about a man in a bunny suit that you want your kids to talk to...Since when did Easter become about gifts anyway?

    I remember taking my kids to the EB at the mall. It was more for their amusement than anything. They could see the person inside the suit -they knew it wasnt real. They soon tired of it all. We never told them the EB or SC was real, we only played a game with the traditions. Good memories for us all.

    Apparently parents in Fl need to get a grip. And people need to start acting more courteously towards one another-just because someone is a stranger, does not mean you have the right to wipe your feet on them.

    Would my husband defend me? Yeah he sure would if he felt I was being threatened and in physical harm. Sounds like if the EB did hit the woman, it was either in Self defense...in defense of his wife...or a total accident where the lady's head was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  4. This is a great story. Thanks for sharing it, Steve!

  5. You're welcome. I was laughing my ass off at it, so I had to share it.

  6. Muddy: I'm with you. The people at the mall need to consider the exhibit employees' feelings as much as their own. That said, I wish I coulda seen that fight! LOL