Halloween haunted house used to raise funds for terminal San Bernardino girl shut down

The Caitlin Manor Haunted House in San Bernardino has become a Halloween destination for nine years, but city officials have now shut it down.

The haunted house has been hosted by Augie and Maria Cowan, and their family since 2014, drawing big crowds to their house.

"Over the years, it's a big community event and everybody loves it, and a lot of the same people come to it every year, not just from San Bernardino, but all of the different cities," said Augie Cowan.

The haunted house is also a fundraiser for Andrea Cowan, Augie and Maria's 14-year-old daughter.

"The reason we have the haunted house is my daughter [Andrea] has Metachromatic leukodystrophy, so it's a terminal illness, and we use it to help raise money for medical needs," Augie said.

The proceeds have helped the Cowans purchase a van, a hospital bed, holistic treatment and other needs for Andrea over the years. Augie retired early to care for Andrea, and Maria started working part-time.

Andrea was diagnosed with the rare, terminal illness at two years old. The life expectancy for that illness is normally three to five years, but Andrea defied the odds.

"She is now 14 years old, and it gets a little worse each year," said Augie.

Andrea is now in hospice care, and is not expected to live much longer. This year was going to be the family's 10th and final scare, but it won't be happening now.

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"Unfortunately they're (San Bernardino city officials) gonna put a stop to this, so we're here to try to ask if this can be our final scare. They sent code enforcement there (to the Cowan house) and my daughter is in hospice so we're probably not going to get to do the last haunted house," said Augie.

The Cowans went to the San Bernardino city council meeting Wednesday to try to plead with the city council to reopen their haunted house.

Councilmember for San Bernardino's Fifth Ward, Ben Reynoso, spoke to the crowd before the meeting, apologizing to the Cowan family, and taking the blame for the closure of the haunted house.

Reynoso said there are permit issues, and complaints from neighbors about the crowds, noise and a shooting that happened near the haunted house last year.

"You're doing a great thing," Reynoso said of the Cowan family, "and I hate that you have to be here. I want to apologize to everyone because I'm fully responsible for all of you being here, for you losing sleep at night, for you worrying about this not happening anymore because I relayed the information. When I raised the concerns about the shooting that happened near the house, not at the haunted house last year, my police chief is very active and I'm not gonna burn my chief and throw him under the bus for wanting to be proactive and actually ensure that the legal permitting is there because if this were to happen anywhere else in the city, unfortunately it probably wouldn't last this long. We want to see this haunted house happen, but the reality is I've spoken to Augie, and I'm so sorry that you have to be here," said Reynoso.

Reynoso said the city stepped up code enforcement measures too.

"We bumped up our code enforcement, so code enforcement is out, and I hope they've spoken to you (the Cowan family) and I hope the city can assist you with getting that done, to get into the right place, but truly I am sorry," said Reynoso.

Reynoso said the haunted house would "more than likely" have to take place inside of a building because it cannot take place at their house like it has for the past nine years.

Reynoso said immediate neighbors complained about the haunted house, and one neighbor shared her concerns about the haunted house during the city council meeting's public comment portion on Wednesday.

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The Cowan family said it is too late for them to address the permit issues, and unless something changes, they don't believe the final scare will happen in time.

"It's just depressing that people could be so cruel. Some of the neighbors just judge us. The haunted house is used as nothing more than a fundraiser for my daughter," said Augie.

The family does not have a GoFundMe page at this time because they were using the haunted house proceeds to pay for medical needs, and this year's proceeds would have gone towards hospice and funeral expenses.