REGISTER VIEWPOINT: Everyone knowing it doesn't make it so

When it comes to spreading the word fast, news agencies have to give a tip of the hat to those who kept each other informed last wee
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

When it comes to spreading the word fast, news agencies have to give a tip of the hat to those who kept each other informed last week about alleged abductions and murders.

In the course of a few days, nearly everyone in town had heard the rumors. By Monday, the newsroom had a number of calls from tipsters and reporters had taken calls at home and on cell phones.

All the stories had a common theme -- young girl abducted, raped and murdered. From there variations sprung. The number of alleged abductions and the place the bodies were supposedly found varied from caller to caller. One caller even gave a description of the abduction vehicle.

Fortunately, all these concerned citizens' stories lacked one important factor -- truth.

Word is the stories had their origins in two junior high school girls' idea of a joke (of course, that might be a rumor).

As a joke, it failed miserably. Parents were frightened and kids were subjected to the "don't-talk-to-strangers speech. School officials, police and reporters went to work because they can't just decide something sounds fishy. They have to check it out.

Although the stories lacked credibility from the beginning, even skeptics felt obligated to, at least, warn those close to them. The recipients of that advice, in turn, felt they must warn their friends. No one wants to be the one who could have prevented a tragedy if only he or she had spoken up.

Sandusky police Chief Kim Nuesse quelled the rumors somewhat Monday night by speaking up at the televised city commission meeting. The Register further spread the word of the hoax in a front page story Tuesday.

The stories were just that -- tall tales.

But we learned two things from the rumors.

One -- how quickly stories can spread, inducing panic and spreading fear. Choose your words carefully. They never stop after they leave our mouths.

And, two, people will drop whatever they're doing to try to keep someone out of harm's way. Those who issued warnings without embellishing the story are not gossips. They are people who care.

The person-to-person information sidewalk is how urban legends are born. Some legends, like the deadly spiders sewn into imported coat linings or exploding PopRocks candy or American flags sprinkled with anthrax are so ridiculous they're funny.

But abduction and murder of hometown girls is not a laughing matter. We're lucky this time. Our kids are safe. Now let's bring the rumor mill to a grinding halt.

Today is April Fools' Day, so expect to be lied to at least once. Just remember the line between funny tricks and vicious lies and clearly define it for your kids.

By the way, there's a spider on your shoulder.