A shooting Friday near Pendleton was bogus, but some Neighborhood Watch members received this message about the incident not long after a 9-1-1 call: “If seen do not approach them! Call them into dispatch only. These people are out to kill.”
Greg Hodgen, head of the Neighborhood Watch program for the sheriff’s office, said he sent an all-caps email to about 200 Neighborhood Watch members Friday soon after the sheriff’s office received a report of a shooting at 4:35 p.m. in the area near Stage Gulch Road, west of the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport, Pendleton. He explained he was about to leave work for the day when he got word about the reported shooting, so he dashed off the message and sent it as quickly as he could, and there was a lot of adrenaline pumping as he worked.
“I wanted to put the fear of God in people,” he said, but admitted the message was too dramatic. “I take full responsibility for that.”
That fear prompted multiple people Friday evening to contact the East Oregonian about the message, which detailed a woman being shot in her vehicle by passengers wearing bandannas over their faces driving on county roads north of Pendleton. The message also warned that the suspects “may stop at a ranch for cover.”
Hodgen said public safety is his top priority, and at the time he wanted to alert people to possible trouble. When he returned to work Monday, he said, he found out the whole thing was a hoax.
Still, in spite of the tone of the text, he said the alert system for Neighborhood Watch members worked well.
“If nothing else it was a good practice session,” he said. “It put some people on their toes.”
Sheriff Terry Rowan said Friday that information emergency dispatchers received was “nothing close” to what happened. Undersheriff Jim Littlefield sent an official statement a little before noon Saturday that said the incident remained under investigation and there was no substantial information to indicate a threat to the public. Rowan nor Littlefield immediately returned calls Monday.
Hodgen said he appreciated any concern his message touched off, but he was working on the best information he had during what seemed like a critical incident. He also encouraged Neighborhood Watch members to check with the emergency dispatch or the sheriff’s office whenever they have questions about an incident.