The prank heard around the world

By on September 13, 2017

Red balloons in Lititz got national and international attention last week.

We first learned of a mysterious prank in Lititz from a 6:30 a.m. Facebook post Sept. 5 by Julie Quagliata, who added photos of a single red balloon strung to a sewer grate.

“Creepy! Across from my house,” Quagliata wrote.

Upon further investigation, she soon discovered red balloons had dotted the Lititz landscape that Tuesday morning.

During the next few hours, one Lititz resident after another confirmed seeing red balloons, 34 in all.

By that time, many residents speculated who did it and why.

The Lititz Borough Police Department posted a cryptic message about 90 minutes after Quagliata’s initial post.

It stated the balloon prank had something to do with “a certain movie coming to theaters in two days.”

“A local prankster took it upon themselves to promote the movie,” LBPD posted, while playing along with the tricksters.

“We give points for creativity, however we want the local prankster to know that we were completely terrified as we removed these balloons from the grates and we respectfully request they do not do that again.”

The Lititz Record Express picked up the cop’s response, clearly a reference to the new movie adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “It,” and reposted it on the paper’s Facebook page.

That’s when things really got interesting.

A few hours later the movie information site IMDB linked Steve Barton’s repost and comments about the Lititz Police post on dreadcentral.com.

“The new film version of Stephen King’s IT is only a few days away, but fans in Pennsylvania are getting a little too eager for the police department’s liking. According to the Lititz Borough Police Department’s Facebook page, red balloons poking out of sewers have them terrified,” Barton wrote.

But by this time the Lititz PD, which has posted humorous Tweets for several months, had doubled down, taking the prank viral.

“Sooooo our Red Balloon and ‘IT’ post we posted earlier today took on a life its own (no pun intended),” Lititz PD posted on its Facebook page at 3:44 p.m. Sept. 5.

Media outlets everywhere picked up the story by the end of the day, including USA Today, New York Times, Associated Press, CBS, Fox, as well as news outlets as far away as New Zealand and Saudi Arabia.

Lititz PD posted a photo of a “clown detective” dusting a red balloon for prints with the caption:

“And now due to widespread media coverage all over the country and intense public scrutiny and outcry, we have turned the investigation over to our Criminal Investigations Division for further investigation and prosecution of the person(s), errr ah, ‘thing’ responsible. CID wasted no time springing into action, here’s one of them checking for fingerprints with their ever so handy can of ‘duster.’ Don’t worry everyone, we’ll have the person or ‘thing’ responsible in custody in no time, these guys really know what they’re doing! P.S. Don’t tell them that clowns wear gloves, we want to see how long this keeps them occupied!”

The police were correct and the mystery was revealed later that night — but Lititz’s finest had nothing to do with it.

It turns out a group of Warwick school girls, led by Peyton Reiff, pulled off the prank on the last day of summer vacation late Monday. Reiff explained how the tribute to Stephen King came about.

“My friends and I were driving at night when I spotted a dim lit sewer drain and I stopped the car and told the girls I have an idea,” she posted on Facebook. “I explained what I wanted to do and all the girls agreed it was a great idea.

“So we quickly drove to Giant to start our scheme. When we arrived at Giant we asked them to blow up 24 red balloons. We then shoved these balloons into my friends small car and drove away.

“Our plan was to tie red balloons to sewer drains around our (peers) from school houses to geek them out since the new IT movie is coming out this Friday and we knew kids from our school would know about this!

“We ended up going back to Giant and getting 10 more red balloons and tying them all over town. When we woke up we saw the Lititz Police had responded to the balloons and were frightened, which wasn’t our intent but we are glad to see they understood what it meant and got a good laugh out of it! Don’t worry, no clowns here in Lititz, just 5 teenage girls having fun!”

A question often asked online is did the prank help promote the movie “It” at the box office?

Penn Ketchum — managing partner of several movie theaters including Penn Cinema in Lititz and the Ephrata New Main — said the prank itself embodies many movie-related elements such as adventure and storytelling.

“I think it is really cool,” he said. “The movie is about kids sticking together and trying to have fun in a grown-up world,” he said. “These kids in Lititz did just that. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the spirit of great storytelling than by having your own adventure. So yeah, I thought it was great. I am also really glad nobody got dragged into the storm drains along the way! That’s always a good thing.”

Lititz Police have planned to invited the girls involved to meet and talk bout the “prank that went around the world.”

“Trying to coordinate five high school girls’ schedules is not easy,” said Lititz Detective Jevon Miller.

Patrick Burns is a staff writer and social media editor for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455.

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