Students at South High School in Torrance this week mourned Pfc. Joe Anzack, a 20-year-old Army gunner stationed south of Baghdad, after a rumor surfaced that he had been killed in Iraq.
On Monday morning, students who knew the South High alumnus cried. Others left messages of sympathy and last respects on his MySpace page. Student government members even posted a message on a sign outside the school that read: "In Loving Memory -- Joe Anzack -- Class of 2005."
"It was so widely known that it seemed true," said Principal Scott McDowell.
Except it wasn't. Anzack was alive and well.
No one knows where the misinformation came from. But as soon as it hit South High School, it took off.
"It just spread like wildfire," said Josh Waybright, the head football coach. "At the time I didn't know what to believe."
Waybright started getting calls about Anzack from parents, coaches and students Sunday night.
They said they had heard he had died in Iraq and offered their condolences.
He didn't brush it off, even at a school that years ago earned the nickname "Mouth High" for being such a prolific rumor mill. The next morning, he called Joe's grandmother, Betty Anzack, to see if the varsity nose guard he once coached had died.