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Fax Warnings of Gang Initiation Rite Are a Hoax, Authorities Say

September 24, 1993|JEAN MERL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Facsimile messages warning of a chilling gang initiation rite, which were sent to scores of businesses and organizations in Southern California and elsewhere, constitute a hoax, said harried law enforcement officials Thursday.

The warnings are the work of a computer hacker who used facsimile telephone numbers to disseminate the messages to firms and organizations as far away as Ohio and Louisiana, said a spokesman for the Sacramento Police Department, which was falsely named as a source in the clumsily worded bulletins.

Most of the transmissions went to fax machines in Southern California, officials said, judging by the thousands of inquiries that swamped Sacramento police phones, prompting the department to hold a news conference to try to knock down the rapidly spreading rumors generated by the messages.

The faxes, which authorities believe originated in Sacramento and San Jose, took several forms but all had a central theme. They warned that a Sacramento police officer named Grady Harn had learned of a "Blood initiation weekend" in which those wanting to join the Los Angeles-based gang were instructed to drive around Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights with their headlights off, then shoot to death the occupants of the first vehicle that flashed its headlights as a courtesy warning.

The transmissions, most of which appeared to have been sent early Thursday, are being treated as a hoax by the Sacramento department, which has no employee named Grady Harn, and by scores of California law enforcement agencies that checked out the messages after anxious citizens called police or news organizations.

At the Los Angeles Police Department's Devonshire Division, telephone lines were tied up all afternoon by inquiries about the transmissions.

"It's like someone got all the fax numbers for L.A. and sent this thing out," Officer Greg Cannon said.

Sacramento police said similar messages were faxed to several state government offices and elsewhere earlier in the month, prompting an initial wave of public concern.

The phony warnings apparently are the latest example of what sociologists call an urban myth--a recurrent, plausible story that turns out to have no foundation.

Often, these myths frighten citizens, who swamp police departments with inquiries and tie up investigators, school officials or others trying to find the source, authorities say. Crime-weary city dwellers seem particularly sensitive to any potential for violence implied in the messages.

Attorney Patti Finer, whose Long Beach law offices received one of the faxes, said she and her colleagues reacted with fear.

"Everybody was just petrified," Fine said, "because every time you got out you hear about something, somebody getting shot, carjackings."

Melanie Fogg, who works for an Irvine accounting firm, said copies of the faxed warning were distributed to her and to other employees as a precaution.

"You never know with gang people," Fogg said. "Even if it is a hoax, something like this might give (someone) an idea to do it."

Several police officials familiar with gang patterns said the purported plan to randomly attack innocent citizens during an initiation did not ring true. Most initiations involve hazing the new members or having them take on rival gang members, they said.

"We want (to) calm . . . fears. We had our gang investigators look into this. At this time, the incident is considered to be a hoax." said Deputy Larry A. Mead, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Nonetheless, the department is advising caution:

"It would be prudent to practice some caution during this weekend if encountering any autos without lights," Mead said.

Contributing to this story were Times staff writers Nieson Himmel, Kevin Johnson and Timothy Williams and correspondents Douglas Alger and Patti Williams.

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