Two suspects walked into a Walmart with a sign saying “I have the coronavirus,” then proceeded to spray a then-unknown substance on thousands of dollars’ worth of food and merchandise, according to police in Joliet, Ill.
The incident happened on the afternoon of Sunday, Feb. 2 at a Walmart, according to a news release from Joliet police.
The suspects destroyed US$7,300 worth of produce and Walmart spent over $2,400 to clean up the mess, police said. The substance in the spray was later identified as Lysol, a common aerosol disinfectant.
“He was telling everyone the same thing, that he was protecting them from the virus,” witness Tony Prokes told ABC 7. “It’s not really good to be pranking people that way. People will be scared.”
Authorities say two suspects were involved in the incident, although one of them seemingly grabbed most of the attention. He put on a yellow surgical mask and had a sign taped to his back that read: “Caution: I have the coronavirus,” according to a police statement on Facebook.
No one was actually exposed to the virus, police said.
Police released photos from the store’s security cameras on Tuesday and announced that they’d identified the suspects on Wednesday. Both individuals are described as white men in their 20s.
“How stupid,” one user wrote in response to the police statement on Facebook.
“This may have been a prank in their minds but … telling people they are dispersing a weaponize virus with their signs and actions is an act of instilling terror,” another person said.
The incident comes amid a surge in fear surrounding the novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China in late 2019. The disease has killed more than 500 people, infected thousands more and spread to several countries outside China, including Canada and the United States.
The outbreak has inspired a flood of irreverent jokes and internet memes making light of the situation. It’s also inspired a handful of tone-deaf attempts to go viral, including one incident involving a flight from Canada to Jamaica. A Canadian aboard the plane allegedly claimed that he had the virus, prompting the flight to turn around.
“I was looking to get a viral video,” the suspect, James Potok, told Global News earlier this week. “It seemed to me like this was in poor taste, in retrospect.”
Potok was charged with mischief and breach of recognizance.
Police in Joliet, Ill., have not announced any arrests in the Walmart case. They’re expected to face felony charges in connection with the incident, ABC 7 reports.