It's one of the most frightening things a parent can hear: A new form of LSD is on the streets and aimed at children.
It's called Blue Star Tattoo acid and -- according to the flurry of faxes and fliers warning of its arrival -- it comes in the form of a temporary tattoo, the kind kids "lick and stick."
But none of it is true.
Like poodles in the microwave and spider eggs in the bubble gum, it's an urban legend, one that first popped up about 1980. Since then it's been written about in books and newspapers and popped up on the Internet.
The myth of Blue Star Acid tattoos has been this way before. It's one of several urban legends in the region.
In the past week, faxes warning about it were received by at least two local hospitals, and fliers were sent home with school children and posted in a Tacoma clinic.
"It seems to be resurging," said urban legend expert Jan Harold Brunvand, a University of Utah professor, who has written five books on the subject.
"People kind of innocently reproduce and distribute the notice," said Brunvand, who in the last month has heard from at least 10 people -- including his sister in Germany -- about the new form of the hallucinogen.
A warning fax was sent recently to Tacoma's Larchmont Elementary School, prompting officials to send the message home with 560 students. The emergency room at S. Joseph Medical Center also received a warning.
"We get things like this all the time," St. Joseph spokesman Jeff Schaus said.
The fax sent to the hospital states: "A form of tatoo (sic) called 'Blue Star' is being sold to school children. It is a small piece of paper containing a blue star. They are the size of a pencil eraser, and each star is soaked with LSD.
"THE DRUG IS ABSORBED THROUGH THE SKIN SIMPLY BY HANDLING THE PAPER."
The fax also says the tattoo can come in other forms, such as Superman, Mickey Mouse or Bart Simpson. Some, it states, are laced with the poison strychnine.
"This is very serious, young lives have already been taken," the fax says. "This is growing faster than we can warn parents or professionals."
Local authorities say the details in the fax don't match the LSD available in Pierce County.
"There's a lot of blotter acid right now," said Bruce Larson, a narcotics investigator with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department. "But nothing like this."
"Blotter" acid is available on small squares of paper that hold a dose of the psychedelic drug, which causes hallucinations and other symptoms.
The acid being seen in Pierce County features cartoon characters, such as Mickey Mouse and Tweety Bird, Larson said. None comes with a blue star and none in the form of a tattoo.
Larson said he worries LSD might be marketed to children and says it's legitimate to fear youngsters would be attracted to cartoon characters on blotter paper.
Hospital spokesmen at St. Jospeh and Mary Bridge Children's Hospital said they've seen no recent cases of children taking LSD.
"We advised the staff to be aware (of the fax) but not to take it as gospel," said St. Jospeh's Schaus.
One person who never has is Dave Gross, a 27-year-old software engineer at Xing Technologies in Oroyo [sic] Grande, Calif. He's been studying the tattoo-LSD myth as a hobby for about five years.
"It behaves like a virus," he said of the rumor. "It's been mutating for years now."
"Every once in a while it'll pick up a new phrase. The latest one is, 'Many children have already died from these tattoos.' That phrase has been included now everywhere. It helps adds [sic] to its sense of urgency."
It isn't true, he said. LSD wouldn't be easy to put on a "lick and stick" tattoo, and the idea that strychnine might also be in the tattoo is a myth.
Nevertheless, there doesn't need to be a lot of accurate information to convince parents, because what's in the fax seems plausable, Gross said.
The rumor starts up every once in a while because well-intentioned people get the warning and want to do the right thing, Gross said.
That's what happened at Larchmont Elementary, where officials received the fax from someone they thought was a parent. Principal Richard Klumpar sent the warning home with the students Friday.
"Any time we receive information that has a possible harmful effect on our children, we notify parents."
Asked whether the incorrect warning might needlessly alarm parents, Klumpar said, "I would take that criticism in order to protect kids from the possibility of something happening."
At Medalia Health Care's Family Practice Clinic, 1708 S. Yakima Ave., a doctor posted a warning flier on walls and countertops about a week ago.
Loretta Abbott of Roy, for one, believes the threat is real and has been working to alert people about the potential danger.
"I don't believe it's a hoax," said the mother of three. "I'm going to watch out for mine no matter what it takes."
The fax claims to be from "J. O'Donell," who supposedly works at a hospital in Danbury, Conn. The words "originated from Smith-Kline" are handwritten on the fax.
Officials at Smith-Kline, a Philadelphia pharmaceuticals company, denied having anything to do with the fax.
And no "J. O'Donell" ever has worked at Danbury Hospital, said Mindy Meehan, coordinator of the hospital's Chemical Dependency Treatment Service.
"It's problematic from a public relations point of view," said Meehan, who for weeks has received calls from as far away as Alaska concerning the myth.
"My secretary said, 'If I had a nickel for every call...'"
Urban untruths: Bizarre stories keep popping up
By Victor M. Gonzalez
The News Tribune
Here we go again.
Blue Star Tattoo acid isn't the only urban legend to hit Tacoma. And this isn't even the first time for this particular hoax.
- The News Tribune reported Blue Star Tattoo acid was a hoax in 1987 after the Washington State Patrol got hundreds of calls concerning faxes similar to those that started showing up in Tacoma this month.
In fact, the 1987 article was quoted in Jan Harold Brunvand's 1989 urban legend book, "Curses! Broiled Again!"
The story was written by Dan Voelpel, a former reported who now is the spokesman for the City of Tacoma. Voelpel said the legend's resurgence is understandble, he said [sic].
"Anything that calls into question the safety of children is dealt with immediately, and often without a deep investigation, because there's a concern for kids," Voelpel said.
- Three years ago, Tacoma residents were panicked by a widely faxed hoax message that warned of a new kind of gang initiation.
Prospective Bloods gang members were said to drive at night with their car headlights off. The first well-meaning motorist to flash his headlights to alert the driver would be killed.
A 1993 News Tribune article debunked the myth.
- Also in 1993, rumor had it that an "ankle slasher" was hiding under cars in the Tacoma Mall parking lot and cutting shoppers as they unlocked their vehicles.
Checks with Tacoma police reveled no such incidents.