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Woman Is Arrested in Razor Case

Crime: Orange County deputies detain suspect leaving a Mission Viejo park where hazards are found. It is the 10th playground targeted.

June 05, 2002|DAVE McKIBBEN, MAI TRAN and JACK LEONARD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A 21-year-old Mission Viejo woman was arrested early Tuesday for allegedly placing razor blades and other sharp objects at parks across south Orange County over the last two months.

A surveillance team of undercover sheriff's deputies detained Lori Elizabeth Fischer as she tried to leave Vista del Lago Park in Mission Viejo about 1:30 a.m. A search of the area turned up several sharp objects that had just been planted, deputies said.

Fischer had been considered a suspect for at least several days, officers said. Sheriff's detectives saw her acting suspiciously several nights ago at another park, prompting them to place a tracking device on her car to monitor her movements, authorities said.

Fischer, who works as a clerk at the Immigration and Naturalization Service office in Laguna Niguel, was described by neighbors and friends as a troubled loner. She was sometimes heard screaming late at night from inside her parents' house, prompting at least one neighbor to call police. They also said she pedaled her bike around the neighborhood, singing loudly.

Caroline Mann, 15, who has known Fischer for five years, said her friend frequently visited local parks late at night but expressed disbelief that she could be responsible. "She likes to walk and she said she likes to clear her head," Mann said. "She's quiet, nice and sweet in a compassionate way. She's so far from the sadistic psychopath that would do this."

Fischer was booked into the Orange County Central Women's Jail in Santa Ana on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and child endangerment. She is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail--twice the standard bail for murder suspects. Laguna Beach police said they believe Fischer was the woman who made an anonymous 911 call in April to warn police that friends were going to hurt people at a Laguna Beach park. Hours later, 17 razors were discovered buried in the sand at a playground on the city's Main Beach.

That discovery marked the beginning of a string of 10 similar crimes that involved razor blades and nails planted at parks in Laguna Niguel, Lake Forest and Mission Viejo. Though no one has been reported injured by the objects, the discoveries jangled the nerves of parents of young children throughout South County.

City officials in Mission Viejo, where sharp objects were found in seven parks, expressed relief at the arrest and said investigators believe Fischer is responsible for all the recent incidents.

"It's something we've all been concerned about," said Sherri Butterfield, the city's mayor pro tem. "Clearly, this is someone who needs help."

However, police cautioned that some of the episodes may be the work of others.

"I hate to say so early in the game that [Fischer] is the sole person responsible because there might be copycats out there," Laguna Beach Police Sgt. Jason Kravetz said.

In most cases, razor blades or nails were placed at the ends of slides, on the stairways up to the slides, at the bottoms of slides and in play areas.

Costa Mesa and Newport Beach police said they are investigating whether Fischer is linked to an almost identical wave of razor findings last year at six parks. Police never identified a culprit in those incidents, which ended in May 2001.

The recent discoveries sparked a massive community and law-enforcement attempt to catch the culprit. A reward was offered. Police brought in bloodhounds and tried to identify fingerprints found on the blades with little success.

Meanwhile, tips poured in to police, who drew up a list of 20 suspects. Among them was Fischer, who was soon visited by sheriff's investigators.

Mann said Fischer recently told her that she had been interrogated for several hours by detectives, who gave her a voice-stress test to determine whether she was telling the truth. Fischer, Mann said, also told her that she was depressed and that her relationships with family members were strained.

Sheriff's detectives spent Tuesday morning removing papers and other items from the Mission Viejo home Fischer shares with her parents.

Fischer's family declined to comment.

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