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'Louisville Purge' hoax taking its toll on city

By James Bruggers Courier-Journal

What started as a hoax early last week ended up costing businesses money and stirred fear in many Louisville residents as "Louisville Purge" mania swept over the city Friday night and early Saturday morning.

"One lesson is that people really need to be careful about what they say on social media," said Chris Poynter, spokesman for Mayor Greg Fischer. "But we got through it."

The Louisville Purge was based on the 2013 film "The Purge." In the movie, mobs hunt and kill people during a fictitious 12-hour period where crime is legal. A sequel, "The Purge: Anarchy," was released July 18 and is still showing.

Louisville's purge was supposedly set for 8 p.m. Friday through 6:30 a.m. Saturday, and some residents posted on social media that they would be armed.

The threats caused the cancellation of at least one football scrimmage Friday night, when Kenton County administrators decided not to let the Simon Kenton team travel to St. Xavier because of the purge rumors. A private party also was canceled at the Vernon Club in Butchertown, said Jack Mellick, manager of the bowling lanes there. A second party had a small turnout, he said.

The Kentucky State Fair typically draws tens of thousands of visitors daily, and attendance was down Friday night, spokeswoman Amanda Storment said. She said some people may have stayed away after they heard the football scrimmage was canceled, but she added that attendance has been lower all week because many students have returned to school.

Poynter said some people chose to stay home from other Friday night activities and that he expected "real economic impact" from the threats.

For their part, police said anyone who posted threatening messages on social media in advance of Friday night's hoax could face criminal charges.

But the high school student who set off the social media maelstrom won't be charged because his Twitter post was not threatening, said police spokesman Dwight Mitchell. 

"There is a thing called freedom of speech, but with that comes a responsibility," Mitchell said, adding that he's not sure what specific criminal charges could possibly result from an investigation that he said would continue this week.

Mitchell declined to identify the student.

Mitchell said the Twitter post that set everything in motion went up earlier in the week.

In subsequent days, it became a Twitter sensation and among its most talked about topics.

Tension and the number of social media postings escalated Friday with media coverage after police said they were taking the purge threats seriously. The police also asked the public to report any suspicious activity to 911 dispatchers.

Poynter said that at one point, as many as 80,000 people were listening to an online police scanner, probably setting a record.

Even though the whole thing started off as a teenager's idea of fun, and police knew that earlier in the week, Mitchell defended the agency's public warnings on Friday.

"We as a law enforcement agency have to be prepared," he said. "We have to err on the side of caution, to keep our city safe."

There were two fatal shootings overnight, but Mitchell said neither could be connected to the purge hysteria.

While he said dispatchers received about 20 percent more calls from the public than on a typical Friday night, overall police activity was fairly normal and unrelated to any purge threats.

The first of the two overnight shootings occurred about 10 p.m. in the 1600 block of Arcade Avenue. An unidentified man with a gunshot wound was pronounced dead at the scene, Mitchell said. Police had no suspects Saturday afternoon.

The second shooting was in the 7000 block of Routt Road. About 2 a.m., police found the victim in a driveway, Mitchell said. Deputy Coroner Larry Carroll identified the victim as Dillon Walker, 18, of Frankfort. He was pronounced dead at University of Louisville Hospital at 3:28 a.m., Carroll said.

Mitchell said a 17-year-old male was taken into custody and charged with murder.

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