Just the other day, news stations began covering reports that a baboon was on the loose here in Florissant, the St. Louis suburb I call home. Reportedly, a young woman had been awakened in the morning by her barking dogs. Looking out a window, she suddenly caught sight of a baboon sitting under a tree in her backyard.
Knowing baboons can be aggressive and potentially dangerous, the community launched into a frenzy to locate the animal as quickly as possible to ensure public safety, as well as the safety of the baboon itself. After the initial report was released, 911 dispatchers received dozens of calls from residents claiming to have spotted the baboon.
Police units, animal control officers and even local zoo officials were assembled and dispatched to search for this potentially dangerous animal running loose in highly populated residential areas. Local schools went into lockdown and were instructed to keep students from going outside.
The only thing is … there was never actually a baboon on the loose in Florissant that day. It all turned out to be a hoax concocted by a teenage girl, and then perpetuated by a number of gullible, attention-seeking residents.
During the long and exhaustive search, detectives grew increasingly suspicious of the cell phone image given to them by the girl. They soon discovered a generic photo on a conservation site identical to the one she claimed to have taken with her phone. When confronted, the girl finally admitted it was all a lie.
William Karabas, Florissant Police Chief explained, “When we went back and interviewed her again she broke down and said that she had taken the picture off the internet, gave it to us purporting to have been taken in her back yard this morning and that she made the whole story up.”
Earlier in the day, the girl had even gone so far as to tell authorities that her cell phone says “smile” when a picture is taken and that the baboon was “agitated by the sound” and went off to play with a volleyball in the yard.
When hoaxes take place, a frequent question is, should the perpetrator face disciplinary measures or legal action? In my opinion, absolutely. When a person deliberately creates a false situation that prompts law enforcement involvement, government action, manpower and resources, that individual should be held responsible for her actions. Millions of tax-payer dollars go down the drain every year because of “jokes” pranksters think are funny or do to gain attention.
Beyond fiscal damages, other potential dangers abound in major hoax cases as well. In the case of the false baboon report, calls were made to 911 all day long by people who either thought they saw the animal or were looking for their moment in the spotlight. So, like other hoaxes, emergency lines were jammed with unnecessary calls. We’ve all heard the heartbreaking stories of individuals who were suffering a genuine emergency when they called 911. In so many of these cases, help never came in time because, once the caller finally got through, it was too late.
What about real crimes that police can’t get to in time because they’ve been called in to investigate something that turns out to be a hoax? The detrimental aspects created by these attention-obsessed pranksters go far beyond just the money spent and manpower invested. Many hoaxes also create real fear and emotion in the hearts of witnesses and viewers.
We all remember the balloon boy drama not long ago, when a family had authorities, and most of the nation, convinced that their young boy had crawled into their homemade air balloon when it was suddenly swept up and away. Of course, there was never a child in the balloon. He was safe in the attic while hundreds of police officers and firefighters, along with dozens of rescue teams and volunteers, raced to save him. A sickening amount of money was spent on this hoax and, yet again, true victims in danger were unable to reach 911 or receive help in time.
With more and more increasingly expensive and often dangerous hoaxes and pranks being pulled these days, only time will tell how our legal system will handle these troubling actions. In the case of the baboon hoax, family court will decide how the situation will be handled.
The Associated Press
KSDK, St. Louis
Fox 2 Now