Officials revealed more details Monday night surrounding the death of a festivalgoer at the Burning Man festival in Nevada, confirming the fatality was a 32-year-old man who died Sept. 1.
Leon Reece was found unresponsive at approximately 6:24 p.m. on Friday night while the festival was experiencing heavy rains. The unusual downpour on the Nevada desert led to thick mud that trapped festival-goers for multiple days. Reece’s cause of death has not yet been determined, investigators said.
Investigators previously stated that Reece’s death appeared unrelated to the weekend’s weather. But the stormy conditions delayed efforts to send help, Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen said in a statement Monday night.
“Pershing County dispatch received a call regarding a male subject who was on the ground and unresponsive at the Burning Man Festival and medical personnel were administering CPR to the male,” Allen said.
“Due to the unusual rain event happening on the Playa, access to the area and investigative efforts were delayed. Upon the arrival of Pershing County Sheriff’s Office Deputies, the doctor at the Festival had already pronounced the male subject, later identified as Leon Reece, a 32 year old male, deceased.”
Deputies interviewed witnesses and medical responders but were not immediately able to identify Reece’s cause of death. An investigation and toxicology report is currently underway.
The annual Burning Man festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert sees more than 70,000 attendees. Usually those party-goers are warned about the risk of dehydration in the remote desert. But this year’s festival took a frightening turn when heavy rains turned the temporary city into a mud pit, stranding most attendees until Monday, when festival organizers announced that an “exodus” from the campsite was safe.
While stranded, attendees were advised to conserve food and water. Rumors of deaths at the festival, amplified on social media, contributed to unease. “A couple people didn’t make it,” one Burning Man attendee said in a now-viral video after the flood. (Only one death has been reported.) Those fears were compounded by a hoax about Ebola spreading among stranded partiers.
Those rumors are false, Allen said on Monday, although doctors previously cautioned Burning Man attendees to watch their health while stuck on the flooded plain. Stagnant water, port-a-potties, and cold weather could put campers at risk of hypothermia, food-borne illnesses, and Covid-19, Insider previously reported. Those risks were projected to increase the longer campers were trapped at the festival. As of Monday night, however, Burning Man attendees were free to leave the site, and reportedly driving out en mass.
“In consultation with the Bureau of Land Management and the Burning Man Project, there is no validity to any reports regarding an Ebola outbreak, or any other disease,” Allen said.