COVINGTON - Authorities said the rumor of a planned gang initiation murder that swept across Newton and Rockdale counties like an e-mail wildfire Wednesday is unfounded.
An e-mail was circulated that said based on information from a Newton County 911 dispatcher, a gang initiation would take place at Wal-Mart within the next 24 hours in which a man, woman or child would be killed.
Based on an Internet search of Snopes.com, a version of this e-mail has been circulating throughout the United States for a period of years and no law enforcement agency has ever verified its validity.
However, the portion of the e-mail that alleges that this current circulation of the rumor came from information given by a "Newton County 911" employee is apparently correct, and according to Covington-Newton County 911 Center Director Mike Smith, that employee is no longer with the center.
"We had an employee who did resign as a result of that e-mail," Smith said Wednesday afternoon. "Obviously the information did not initiate here, but it was picked up by one of our employees who was a trainee. He chose to disseminate that information to other family members, and that is strictly against our policy. We don't disseminate any public safety information unless we have been given clearance to do so by law enforcement."
Smith called passing along this rumor "reckless and irresponsible" and said in a prepared statement that the center had received a call Tuesday night from a neighboring agency simply passing along rumors of this activity.
"It was stressed that this information 'was not verified,' and appeared to simply be rumors," Smith said. "The trainee passed this information along to their spouse, who then apparently notified a sibling. The sibling then chose the irresponsible act of passing along this unverified information to numerous other people via e-mail. The dissemination of any public safety information, verified or not, is a direct violation of the policies and procedures of the Covington-Newton County 911 Center which could result in immediate termination. This employee has chosen to tender their resignation effective immediately.
"Please rest assured that if such information were received and deemed to be a credible threat by public safety, a proper official notification and response would be made to the public as well as other public safety agencies."
Detective Daniel Seals, public information officer for the Covington Police Department, released the following statement Wednesday afternoon:
"The Covington Police Department has been made aware of an e-mail circulating in our area in regard to gang activity at Wal-Mart. The Covington Police Department takes this and all claims very seriously. We have been diligently investigating this particular e-mail and as of yet have not found it to have any validity. We have also been made aware of similar e-mails circulating in other parts of this state, as well as other states. And as of yet, those e-mails have also not been found to be credible. We will continue to investigate this claim to ensure the safety of our citizens; however, at this time we find this e-mail to have no merit. As always, if a safety concern arises, we will make every effort to alert our citizens.
"Any further questions or concerns, please call 770-786-7605."
Conyers Police Chief David Cathcart said his department had been inundated with calls concerning this e-mail, as well.
"We started getting phone calls (Wednesday). We initially got it out of Newton County," he said. "Sometimes people will put things like this out to see how far it will go. Supposedly it came out of Newton and it mentioned Morgan and Rockdale, and we are coordinating with the agencies there."
Cathcart said the CPD planned to have increased patrols at Wal-Mart Wednesday night as a precaution, but that the agency has not found out anything to make them believe there is any validity to the rumor.
Barbara Knowles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.