By JB Clark
TUPELO – Children have risked their lives on Halloween night for decades, braving their mothers’ warnings of poisoned candy and child abductors in pursuit of the night’s unlimited supply of candy.
Trick-or-treaters need no longer fear Halloween as the most dangerous night of the year because research shows there is no documented case of poisoning, few cases (mostly hoaxes) of candy containing pins or needles and no recorded up-tick in kidnapping or sexual assault on Halloween.
Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre said he remembers a period when the Tupelo Police Department would use an X-ray machine to scan candy for metal objects.
“Rumors were hot and heavy 10 or 20 years ago,” he said. “It seems like the FBI let us use the X-ray machine and we did that for a while but the only thing we see is a lot of smashed pumpkins and toilet paper in trees.”
One case of poisoned candy often cited is the death of Timothy O’Bryan of Deer Park, Texas, who died in 1974 after eating cyanide-laced candy. The boy’s father, Ronald O’Bryan, was later found guilty of poisoning his son in order to claim a life insurance policy and was executed for the crime.
The incident was not a widespread or random poisoning and Timothy was the only victim.
Aguirre said the rumors of kidnappings, people hiding under cars waiting to slash the ankles of passing trick-or-treaters and razor blades in candy have never materialized in Tupelo.
“There hasn’t been a Halloween incident suspicious enough to make it to the criminal investigation desk since I’ve been here,” he said.
Deborah Pugh of North Mississippi Medical Center’s public relations office said she remembered one of the first hospitals she worked for using X-ray to scan candy but many hospitals have stopped.
Gordon Hollingsworth, director of radiology at NMMC, said the hospital scanned candy for a few years about 20 years ago but found no evidence of tampered-with candy and has since stopped.
A report published in the National Library of Medicine (by the Department of Emergency Medicine at Reno’s Washoe Medical Center) said that hospital stopped the practice after showing no evidence of tampering in three city hospitals and 18 nearby hospitals. When the hospitals quit scanning candy the next year, 1986, no reports of contaminated candy were made to police.
Wanda Della-Calce, administrator of Emergency and Behavioral Health Services at North Mississippi Medical Center, said she has never seen confirmation of Halloween legends.
“I have worked in Emergency Services here and in other communities for my entire 28-year career, and I don’t recall any Halloween instances,” she said.
A September 2009 study in the journal “Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment” looked at 67,000 non-family sex offenses reported in 30 states over nine years and found no evidence of an increase of sexual abuse among strangers during Halloween.
Aguirre said with so many people out on one night, it’s still important to be careful and keep an eye on children while they trick-or-treat, but traffic is the main concern.
Saltillo Police Chief Grant Bailey confirmed his department’s main safety concern for Saltillo children on Halloween is keeping a lot of traffic out of neighborhoods, adding that he has never seen an instance that would confirm any of the common Halloween legends.
“We prepare for vandalism and high traffic in neighborhoods,” Aguirre said. “We just try to keep the speeds down while the kids are present on the streets.”