Gang Initiation Rumor at Walmart Called 'Hoax'
A rumor of a gang initiation involving shooting women at Walmart has been burning around the county the last several days -- with e-mails, text messages and word-of-mouth fueling the fire.
Denise Wilson, of Aberdeen, said she must have been one of the few people around who hadn't heard the rumor. She went to Walmart Thursday evening about 8 o'clock and was immediately struck by how few cars were in the parking lot.
She also noted that several police cars were in the parking lot. She said she parked near one of the police cars and entered the building.
"The place is usually packed at that time, but it was just dead around there," she said Friday. "So I went in, got what I needed and went up to check out. The clerk asked me, 'Honey, aren't you scared to come out here tonight?' And I said, 'Scared of what?' She told me about the rumor.
"There were several clerks talking about it, you could tell the place was all abuzz. I must have lived a sheltered life yesterday (Thursday). Usually I know what's going on, that's what shocked me so badly."
Wilson, like many others, asked around and discovered that the rumor appears to be a hoax.
This area isn't the only one falling victim to the rampant fear the rumor feeds. A New Jersey Web site reported Thursday that the same warning has been circulating throughout Delaware and Maryland, saying that police departments had been "inundated with telephone calls" asking about the rumor.
Capt. Jim Foster with the Aberdeen Police Department knows how that feels. He said Thursday that Aberdeen police had been bombarded with phone calls since Wednesday asking about the rumor.
"We spent several man-hours yesterday (Wednesday) trying to track down how the rumor got started," Foster said.
'Like an Iceberg'
But Foster said that the rumor is more likely an urban legend, one of those rumors that quickly take on a life of their own.
In fact, the rumor has popped up and spread in numerous places since 2005, according to the Web site Snopes, which serves as a fact-checker when it comes to rumors. After extensive investigation, the site reveals whether the rumors are true, false or undetermined.
Foster said he and fellow Aberdeen officers spent a lot of time with their own investigation.
"It was like an iceberg," Foster said of the rumor. "You know, you see the tip of it, but when you get under the surface, it just gets bigger and bigger. But then I thought to myself, 'I think I'll check this out on the computer.'"
That is when he went to Snopes. There he found a reference to the gang initiation and Walmart connection. The Web site has a long entry on the urban legend, and has declared the rumor false.
Still, Foster feels it is better to err on the side of caution when it comes to the rumor.
"We honestly feel it is a hoax," Foster said, "but in the one-in-a-million chance that it isn't we are taking precautionary measures."
That is why police officers were patrolling through the Walmart parking lot Thursday evening.
Electronic Rumor Mill
Rumors can really spread in this electronically driven age through such means as e-mails and text messages. The Pilot received an e-mail that bellowed out the warning. It had passed through many computers, with the list of recipients growing ever larger. The one e-mail had probably been sent to more than 200 different addresses.
It started with a message about a woman who had received a call from another woman who had been told by someone else that a gang initiation is taking place, targeting three women, at Walmart this week.
Anna Taylor, a spokesperson for Walmart corporate communications, released the following statement:
"The safety and security of our customers and associates is our top priority. We are aware of the message being circulated and are working with local authorities to enhance our security efforts at our stores in the area. While we take these types of situations seriously, we regard this as being only a rumor, much like similar rumors that have circulated via e-mail in previous years."
Friday morning, it appeared to be business as usual at Walmart, with a parking lot relatively full and scores of people, including many women.
Katherine Mabry, of Laurin-burg, who was filling the trunk of her car with bags of groceries, said she had heard the rumor.
"I actually got a couple of text messages from people," she said. "I sort of blew it off as an urban legend. But at the same time, I'm not going to Walmart in the dark right now. There's no reason to be taking any chances."
A clerk at Walmart said she had received a text message telling her about the gang initiation rite that requires a wannabe gang member to shoot a female in the parking lot of a Walmart.
Another woman in the parking lot Friday morning, who didn't want her name used, said her son had told that he had received information via text messaging. He also told her that three women had been raped. She wasn't too concerned about the rumors.
"There's a bunch of idiots everywhere," she said. "You never can tell. But I don't worry about those things. I believe in the Lord, and I believe that if it's my time, then it's my time."
She went right on loading her purchases from the store into the back of her van.
Contact Hunter Chase at 693-2478 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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