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No, gangs aren't planning to attack college students on Halloween, public safety officials say

Close up of three jack o lanterns. One has a dog face complete with dog shaped nose
David Zalubowski/AP
A display of pumpkins prepared for Halloween welcomes visitors at the Denver Zoo Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, in Denver.

A rumor that appears to have come from a longstanding urban legend has circulated on Western Michigan University's campus recently.

Some WMU students are hesitant to go out on Halloween this year after hearing a rumor they could be victims of gang violence. But public safety officials with Western and the City of Kalamazoo say it’s not true.

The rumor holds that Kalamazoo gangs order potential members to attack Halloween revelers. Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Captain Scott VanderEnde said that's a myth. He said he never encountered any gang initiation-related-violence on Halloween in his 17 years with KDPS. But he has a theory about why people would believe it.

“People like to have that thought that, like I said, that the spooky and scary stuff is out there. And you know, the boogeyman is standing around the corner," he said.

In an email, WMU Chief of Police Scott Merlo said the Halloween gang attack scare dates back many years and is "unsubstantiated."

"There are no gangs that we (WMUDPS) encounter in our patrols and there are no gangs on campus," Merlo said.

"Many criminals are out on Halloween looking for victims but I am not aware of any gang initiations," he added.

Merlo didn't elaborate on the risk of encountering criminal activity on Halloween. VanderEnde said KDPS does increase patrols on the holiday. But his safety advice for people who plan to be out that night had to do with traffic: make sure to be visible to motorists, and stay out of roadways, he said.

Report for America national service program corps member Michael Symonds joined WMUK’s staff in 2023. He covers the “rural meets metro” beat, reporting stories that link seemingly disparate parts of Southwest Michigan.