Organizers called off a welcome-home celebration for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, released after nearly five years of captivity in Afghanistan, saying Wednesday that expected crowds threatened to overwhelm his small hometown of Hailey, Idaho.
"In the interest of public safety, the event will be canceled," a statement released by the event's organizers said. "Hailey, a town of 8,000, does not have the infrastructure to support an event of the size this could become."
- READ: City of Hailey statement
Hailey city administrator Heather Dawson confirmed town officials called off the June 28 rally at the request of organizers, Reuters reported. The town "will be unable to safely manage the number of people expected," she said.
Backlash to the Obama administration's deal trading five Taliban prisoners for Bergdahl, who left his post in Southern Afghanistan in 2009, has grown since the soldier's release Saturday.
Many residents of his hometown have supported Bergdahl, and the town has held annual "Bring Bowe Back" events to support his parents and rally attention to his cause. But the statement said organizers expected attendance would be boosted greatly by protesters as well as supporters now that he has been freed.
"People in Hailey have been aware for some time that there were questions about how Bowe came to be captured, and that there was a chance that Bowe could be in trouble when he came home," Stefanie O'Neill, a rally co-organizer, said, Time magazine reported.
"Hailey community members who worked during March and April of this year to organize their annual Bring Bowe Back event in Hailey have asked to cancel the event.
"When the news of Bowe Bergdahl’s release was announced this past Saturday, the organizers joyfully declared that the event would be renamed Bowe is Back, and would become a celebration of family and friends being reunited with their son who was had been held captive in Afganistan for five years. In the past, the event had been a celebration of support to the family through these many years.
"National media attention on Hailey and this event has led many across the nation to believe that the event is intended to be a military parade. There is broad interest in this topic, as evidenced by the approximate 100 correspondences per day received by the City of Hailey this week. The organizers and Hailey expect a significant increase in attendance to this event, by people who both want to support or protest against it.
"In the interest of public safety, the event will be cancelled. Hailey, a town of 8,000, does not have the infrastructure to support an event of the size this could become."