Thursday, March 19, 2009

Stop the Rumors: Quit SMSing about WalMart Gang Initiations

My daughter and her teenage friend were sitting on the couch watching TV today when they began getting text messages on their phone. Here's one of them:

Fwd: Do not go to any walmart tonight. Gang initiation to shoot 3 women tonight. Not sure which walmart. And confirmd on tv. Forward 2 all girls on ur phone

At least three different friends sent the message in the space of thirty minutes. I reassured them that it was just a hoax, and pointed them to the Urban Legends sites to see that this rumor has been going around for at least four years:

July 2005 email version:

December 2007 email version:

March 2009 SMS version:

What was interesting to me though was how widespread the event is, and how each area seems to be treating it as a stand-alone event. Googling up the news has chiefs of police saying there is nothing to worry about, while others are promising a "state-wide investigation".

Apparently the best way to send a rumor is to text it to a teenager and tell her to send it to all her girlfriends.

In Delaware, the State Police are being inundated with calls, and have shared a copy of their message:

i don't noe how tru dis is but here it is. Dont go 2 any walmarts 2nite ther will be a gang initiation n dey have 2 kill 3 women at each store. Tell ur love 1s.

The Greenwood, South Carolina sheriff's office Major Lonnie Smith is promising that there will be extra patrols at their WalMart's Thursday night "as a precaution".

In Portage, Indiana police were on hand at local WalMarts after they "received information from high school students that there was going to be a shooting at a Wal-Mart as a gang initiation."

In Georgia police put out extra patrols, earning the outrage of at least one blogger who says tax payer money was wasted because the police couldn't use Google.

The Jefferson Parish, New Orleans sheriff says these are nothing but rumors, but "As a precaution, Normand is assigning additional personnel to the area as needed", Col. John Fortunato said.

Officers in Murfreesboro Tennessee showed more restraint when the rumors were making their rounds in January -- “An e-mail being distributed in Nashville and Rutherford County about gang intitations is fabricated,” said Chief Deputy Virgil Gammon of the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department in a Jan. 18, 2008 article.

In Chattanooga Tennessee a version is circulating which names a specific store - the Gunbarrel Road Wal-Mart near Hamilton Place. Chattanooga Police spokesperson Jeri Weary said, "This is not a situation that has occurred in Chattanooga and there have been no reported incidents at any of the Chattanooga area Walmarts."

Police in Findlay Ohio told the local ABC 13 News that they've been told the rumors originated in South Carolina.

Police in Birmingham, Alabama were also calm about the situation -- "They circulate that kind of stuff every year," said Sgt. S. White of the Birmingham Police Department's East Precinct, interviewed by the Birmingham News. "Usually there is nothing to it."

The rumors are being reported in almost every city with a newspaper! Yuma, Arizona, Moline, Illinois, Palm Beach, Florida, Greeley, Colorado . . .

You get the idea . . . all around the country a text message rumor storm has police and concerned parents buzzing about something that everyone is quite sure is a hoax.

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