STORY FAIL: This year’s biggest holiday myth might well be the tale of the fleeing Best Buy shoplifter who had nearly every bone broken when he “slipped and fell off a curb” after stabbing a Marine.
What makes this urban legend so enticing is that there is plenty of truth to it, according to the ultimate authority on fact-versus-fiction, Snopes.com .
The actual incident occurred last Nov. 26 (Black Friday), after security at a Best Buy in Augusta, Georgia, saw a thief cut a Dell laptop from its packaging and stuff it down his pants.
The suspect, 39-year-old Tracey Attaway, was confronted, let go of the laptop and then ran out the front door, pulling a knife and barreling over an employee, police later reported.
“Outside the store’s entrance were four Marines and seven volunteers collecting donations for Toys for Tots,” Snopes.com reports. “One of them, Cpl. Phillip Duggan, clotheslined the running man, bringing him to the ground.U.S. Marine Cpl. Phillip Duggan (COURTESY: WJBF.COM), Tracey Attaway
“The assailant regained his feet and swung his knife, stabbing Duggan, then was quickly tackled by several other Marines.”
He was held for police.
Duggan got all of three stitches — along with TV interviews and widespread online coverage.
Attaway, a convicted felon with 30 arrests on his record, got life in prison just last month (True).
An Associated Press account of the incident began circulating online at Christmastime last year — only it contained an additional paragraph:
“The suspect was transported to the local hospital with two broken arms, a broken leg, possible broken ribs, assorted lacerations and bruises he obtained when he fell trying to run after stabbing the Marine.”
According to Snopes : “That bit appears to be pure invention” by someone looking to send a “Don’t mess with the Marines” message. Attaway didn’t need a doctor: He apparently didn’t have a scratch.
This February, an Australian version of the story transformed the Marines into national troopers and the Best Buy into a Toys ‘R’ Us. The Augusta Chronicle became The West Australian, with Royal Perth Hospital becoming Attaway’s destination.
The Aussie version of the tale says he was injured “when he tripped whilst trying to run after the stabbing. THE CLUMSY BASTARD!”
Here’s where it gets ugly: A U.S. version around the same time changed Attaway’s name to Tyrone Jackson.
It also added the closing line: “Now that was a well written Police report.”
These stories pop up constantly. Snopes says the explosion of social networking is clearly to blame. And who’s to argue?
In fact, I’d venture to guess that seven – or even eight — of every 10 tales you and I receive are either total fabrications or long stretches of truth.
I should know.
I was working at a daily newspaper in North Jersey when the big Halloween scare occurred 10 years ago.
It was only a month after 9/11. People were anxious, on edge, afraid. A man bought $15,000 worth of candy at the Costco in Hackensack and a store in Wayne, and word spread fast that parents should keep their children home on Halloween: Terrorists intended to poison them!
Hackensack police were deluged with calls from all kinds of media, as well as from concerned parents. I wasn’t buying it (being a longtime Snopes.com fan), so I assigned two reporters to get to the truth.
By then, someone in the Costco home office has alerted the FBI. The buyer was immediately found and questioned.
Yes, he had some immigration problems. But it turned out he was a flea market vendor who was planning to turn a handsome profit during the time of year when the most candy is bought.
You can look it up.
CLIFFVIEW PILOT has a holiday gift for you: Next time someone emails you a cool, funny, interesting or wild story, double-check to see whether it’s true before passing it on. Snopes updates its extensive lists and, based on what’s circulating at the time, posts its “ 25 Hottest Urban Legends ” every day.
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