Man fakes mass shooting threat to avoid trip to LA fair with parents, Calif. cops say

A Southern California man’s ploy to avoid going to the Los Angeles County Fair with his parents landed him in jail, according to police.

Pomona Police Chief Michael Olivieri said at a news conference Saturday that fair officials received an email warning of a mass shooting at the fairgrounds last week.

“Hello, I was told that someone was planning on doing a mass shooting on Sunday at the Fairgrounds,” the email said, according to police. “I just wanted to inform you guys already.”

After receiving the threatening message, fair staff alerted authorities Friday afternoon and an investigation began, according to a police news release.

“Obviously, in today’s world, a message like that is very concerning,” Olivieri said.

Police said that within an hour, three people had been identified as possible suspects in the incident — but a digital footprint helped investigators narrow it down to one in particular.

Erik Villasenor, a 22-year-old who lives with his parents in Sylmar, was arrested on false threat charges and booked at the Pomona jail, police said.

Olivieri said Villasenor was the owner of the email address and “admitted that it was a hoax” around midnight Friday before he was taken into custody.

“As for the why, our investigators believe ... he was planning to go to the fair on Sunday with his parents, and he did not want to go,” Olivieri said. “Though he’s 22, he thought it was appropriate to send this threat and we believe it was with the intent that it would spark some chaos and commotion. It would be captured on the media and then he could use that as an excuse to his parents to not go to the fair.”

The Los Angeles County Fair is open through Sept. 22.

The fair beefed up security following the threat, fair officials said.

“I have never seen a more robust security system,” Olivieri added, explaining he has worked the county fair in Pomona for 30 years.

Miguel Santana, the CEO of the Fairplex, which hosts the annual event, said at the news conference that the threat “really provided us an opportunity to test the kind of security systems that we worked so hard to create.”

KTLA reports that the “fair announced last month that it will be beefing up security with a $200,000 investment in the wake of several recent mass shootings, including one at the Gilroy Garlic Festival where a gunman killed three people and wounded several others on July 28.”

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.