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Redlands School Wants 'Ghost' in Detention

Mariposa Elementary and police find people are a pain when they think you're haunted.

October 31, 2005|Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writer

Mariposa Elementary School is a cheery complex of beige buildings splashed with butterfly murals, but its notoriety stems from a spooky tale embedded in playground lore.

The ghost of little-boy Billy is rumored to lurk in the Redlands school's administrative office. He bounces a handball, peers out a window and, according to schoolyard scuttlebutt, whispers to first- and second-graders in the bathroom.

No one said dealing with the undead was easy, but it's the living who have proved to be the biggest pain for school officials and the neighborhood.

Hordes of ghost hunters have prompted the school to post "No Trespassing" signs, residents to groan at the mere mention of Billy and police to install hidden cameras to snag wannabe ghostbusters.

"It's a nasty rumor that builds and builds from year to year," said Karen Grozak, a former PTA president at the school. "I'd like to see it die."

Redlands is a curious conjuncture of hilltop homes and ghoulish narratives. It has a population of just 70,000 but has a hefty presence on ghost-hunting websites, which list ghouls at the Barton Road Mansion, a violent spirit in the Fox Theater, funky noises at Hillside Cemetery and a man in an army uniform wandering the University of Redlands' Merriam Hall.

But none of Redlands' haunts pesters police like Mariposa Elementary, which harbors a legend that changes according to who's telling the tale:

Billy is the ghost of a boy hit by a school bus. Or a car. He was riding a bike. Maybe. He died near the school, or in an ambulance, or in the nurse's office. His death happened in the 1950s. Or later -- the school wasn't built until 1964.

It appears Billy was miffed at losing out on playtime; he's said to rock the school swings. Mostly, though, he camps out in the attendance office, where thrill-seeking kids knock once -- or three times -- and Billy knocks back.

For some kids in the neighborhood, knocking for Billy was a rite of passage.

Both children in the Mittal family, who live across the street from Mariposa Elementary, were attending the K-5 school when they ventured to the office door with ghost-seeking pals.

Vandna, 16, recalled hopping the fence, shuffling across asphalt and a walkway and nervously rapping on an office door. Nothing.

"It's stupid. It's not even real," she said.

Anupam, her 13-year-old brother, remembered crawling under a gate, through a ditch that's now blocked, with a crew of buddies. They lined up to peer into long windows that frame the office.

"I didn't look in. It looked scary," he said, laughing.

Michelle Ferrall recently began teaching an after-school program at Mariposa, and watched, bemused, as two girls knocked on the building's walls and pressed their ears against them.

"I asked what they were doing, and they said they were ghost-hunting," she said. "I've had kids say they heard voices in the bathroom."

But school officials have had to cope with less innocuous spirit-seeking from people who don't just knock. High school students and recent grads litter with beer cans, toilet-paper trees and smash windows.

School officials wish they could exorcise the Billy legend, but the Internet rumor mill is too wily a demon to tame.

"I refuse to comment on something as silly and dumb as that. Every time a story appears, there are more visitors and more headaches," said former Principal John Delandtsheer.

"We're trying to put an end to it," said Christina Christopherson, his successor at the 570-student school.

Residents have soured on the tale as well, besieging police with calls -- officers trek to Mariposa more often than any other elementary in their jurisdiction.

"People go to Mariposa looking for a ghost, but they're more likely to find a cop," said Kurt Smith, director of community analysis and technology for the Redlands Police Department.

The complaints have caused the agency to divert officers to Redlands' tranquil eastern neighborhood. So in September, workers began wiring seven cameras that feed to the school and to police dispatchers.

The plan hasn't nabbed any ghost-stalkers yet. But its arrival did spur inquiries from researchers into paranormal phenomena, who thought the cameras were installed to capture Billy.

Smith said he shared with them the closest thing to an official story: About three decades ago, a teenager in a pickup hit a boy riding a bike near the school, and Mariposa teachers ushered him to an ambulance.

The boy died at a hospital, not the school, Smith told callers, repeating: There is no ghost.

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