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METRO NEWS

Razor Blades Mysteriously Scattered Near Play Equipment in 2 Cities' Parks

April 29, 2001|MAI TRAN and TINA BORGATTA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

For a month now, someone has been lurking in the shadows of several Costa Mesa and Newport Beach parks, leaving behind single-edged razor blades around swings, sandboxes and slides.

Seven blades have been found, mostly by parents playing with their children. No one has been cut, but the discoveries have caused concern.

Many parents are restricting their children to backyard play, and dog owners too are avoiding the parks. Residents as well as city workers scour the grass and sand for more blades, and the police are trying to determine who is responsible.

Detectives are stumped. The razor blades have yielded no fingerprints. Bloodhounds have traced scents where they were found, leading police to believe the cases are connected. But increased surveillance of local playgrounds has yet to identify a suspect.

"It could be someone who's homeless. It could be a teenager. It could be anyone. We just don't know," said Costa Mesa Police Lt. Dale Birney.

"The park is where we go, walk our dogs, where our kids play. . . . To have this random violence take place is very disturbing," said Costa Mesa City Councilwoman Karen Robinson, who usually lets her dog roam around the parks.

The situation is enough to keep Vicki Farrell and her 6-year-old boy, Tyler, at home for a while.

"It's scary," said Farrell, who usually takes her son to Heller Park in Costa Mesa. "I think for right now I'll kind of cool it until things calm down."

For those who do continue to go to the playgrounds, the blades are the topic of nervous chatter.

"It's the first thing they say, and they all say the same thing, 'Did you hear?' " said Marti Rydzynski of Costa Mesa, who played with her 5-year-old daughter, Amanda, and two other children at Heller Park. "It's sick. . . . You wonder what type of person would do something like that."

On Friday, residents offered a reward of at least $2,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the culprit, who could face charges of attempted assault with a deadly weapon, police said.

Experts express little surprise at the intensity of the community's reaction to the razor blade incidents.

"It makes us feel more vulnerable because it's random and it can happen at any time, for any reason and for not anything that we did," said Carl Shubs, a Beverly Hills psychologist and chairman of the victim treatment panel of the Los Angeles County Psychological Assn. "It makes us all feel at risk and having the potential to be the next victim. It's hidden so we don't know where it's coming from or how to protect ourselves."

Police officials said the case has proved difficult to crack, in part because it's so unusual. Also, the parks offer easy access for the assailant, who could easily drop the blades without looking suspicious.

"Just when you think you've seen it all, something else happens," Birney said. "It's not just that a child could be injured, but [they could] pick these things up, put them in their pocket, stick them in their mouth."

Not all parents and children are staying away from the parks.

Mike Leis of Newport Beach said he is going to continue bringing his children, Matt, 4, and Megan, 3, to Heller Park. He's just careful to check the slides, swings and climbing equipment.

"It's a good neighborhood park; I like bringing my kids here, and nothing like this has ever happened before," Leis said. "I think it's just some juvenile delinquents trying to cause some trouble, cause a ruckus, but I do hope they find them and they get in trouble. It's a shame to see this kind of thing happen."

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