COLCHESTER – Three years ago 7-year-old Ripley Stark went to a birthday party at Spare Time in Colchester and never came home. She had entered the then-new “Fallen City” laser tag room with her friends, but when the buzzer called for the game to end, she was nowhere to be found. Search parties were organized, police brought in, but to no avail. Authorities had largely ended the case, but her vindicated parents say they never gave up hope.
“Ripley’s a fighter,” said her father after she was finally found on Sunday afternoon. “I knew she wasn’t going down without a fight. They had listed her as MIA, but I knew they didn’t really believe it. But I believed it. I knew she would find her way out of that post-apocalyptic hellhole.”
Now ten years old, Ripley says she heard people calling her name, but didn’t go to them. “I wasn’t going to be fooled by the Reds,” she told press. “I didn’t care what they did. Turn the lights on, bring the cops in, pretend the game was over, it sounds like something they would do to lure me out into the open and make me an easy target. And I’m not an easy target.”
Rumors have persisted for years about the “phantom player” in the arena, with many players complaining that their vests were registering hits, despite no members of the opposing team anywhere near them. The teenagers that run the game dismissed these concerns as minor glitches, but Ripley confirms that she never gave up the fight for the Blues, often sniping members of the Red team from her secret vantage point.
“It took a while for us to convince her to come out,” said Colin Late, one of the laser tag employees. “I told her the war with the Reds had been over for 2 years, but she didn’t believe me. I don’t think she wanted to believe me.”
Stark was found by accident when a young boy tried to climb up one of the structures in the arena. This dangerous stunt is not allowed in the game, and for a good reason. The boy fell, and Stark rushed out to catch him. “He’s lucky he was a Blue,” Stark said afterward.
After subsisting on leftover birthday party pizza and watered down Mountain Dew for three years, young Ripley Stark is finally home with her family again. “It feels good,” said her mother. “We’re finally together again, and things are returning to normal. Mostly, anyway. She’s back at school, playing with her toys, seeing friends, it’s going well. The only problems we have are in the car, when the traffic lights turn red…”