It’s a tale as old as Halloween, or at least as old as the 1970’s.
“Make sure you check your children’s Halloween candy!” Online forums and worried mothers have warned repeatedly. Even Abigail Van Buren, author of the “Dear Abby” column, warned readers about razor blades and poison that could potentially be in their children’s Halloween candy.
Here is the reality: Police have never documented a case of people randomly giving out poisoned candy on Halloween, according to Snopes.
The above Facebook post has been shared over 600 thousand times, but the most “liked” comment is from a skeptic.
“Lol they’ve been harping on this crap since I was a little girl. I **wish** people were handing out free drugs, you’d see every adult in life trick or treating,” Amy Salvo wrote. Her comment received over 15 thousand likes.
According to Snopes, the most famous case of candy poisoning happened on Halloween Night, 1974. Ronald Clark O’Bryan gave his son, daughter and three other children Pixie Stix laced with cyanide, a deadly chemical.
None of the children ate the Pixie Stix, except eight-year-old Timothy Marc O’Bryan, who died at 10 p.m. that night. In an attempt to gain life insurance money and cover his crime, O’Bryan claimed that Timothy got the poisoned candy while trick-or-treating earlier that evening.
O’Bryan was found guilty of the murder, by circumstantial evidence, and executed by lethal injection in 1984.
There are two “Halloween poisonings” that predate the O’Bryan case. A 5-year-old in Detroit was suspected to have eaten poisoned candy in 1970, but actually got into his uncle’s heroine. In New York, a housewife handed out dog treats, steel wool and ant poison, clearly marked. She was apparently upset by children trying to get free candy, warned them when she handed out the bags, but was charged with endangering children and pled guilty.
Although all of these incidents are unfortunate, none of them imply that children are in danger of receiving poison candy while trick-or-treating.
John Velez, a Texas Tech University professor who holds a doctorate in mass communication uses and effects, said the belief that children may receive poisoned candy may be due to a theory called agenda setting.
“These news organizations provide only a small window to the whole world, and whatever they decide are the issues they want to talk about are what the public gets to see,” Velez said.
He said the theory implies that the issues news organizations talk about the most is what the public will perceive as the most important, due to trust of journalists.
“Now, people don’t just pay attention to the news,” Velez said. “There’s so many different sources of information that come around.”
If someone sees a post with even a tiny bit of credibility, Velez said people may think that since someone went through the trouble of making it, they should listen to what it says.
ABC Action News in Tampa Bay, Florida said Florida’s Poison Control warns of children unintentionally collecting “marijuana candy” on Halloween because “the legalization of medical marijuana is on the table” in Florida. Their local sheriff’s offices have confirmed that there has been no cases of this happening.
This can be an example of agenda setting, because although it has never happened, Tampa Bay parents may worry and check their children’s candy for marijuana this Halloween.