Last Friday night, a man who identified himself as a firefighter called a Burger King restaurant in Coon Rapids, Minn., to tell the workers they were in danger.
The gas levels in the building had reached explosive levels, he told the restaurant manager authoritatively. To ensure everyone’s safety, they needed to relieve the pressure. To do that, they needed to break the windows.
The workers had never heard anything like it before, but the caller sounded like a professional. They panicked, ran to their cars and promptly started smashing the restaurant’s windows from the outside using tire irons.
“I guess I was a little scared,” employee Ethan Grew told WCOO. “My other co-workers were doing it so I just followed along.”
By the time police arrived, all the ground floor windows were shattered. Authorities broke the news to the “frantic” manager, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported: There was no gas leak, no firefighter.
There was only, it appeared, a prankster targeting a fast food restaurant – again.
The gas leak hoax has crisscrossed the country in recent months, hitting Burger Kings in Oklahoma and California, as well as Jack in the Box and a Wendy’s in Arizona.
A day before the incident in Coon Rapids, a caller claiming to be from the fire department told workers at a Burger King in Shawnee, Okla., that there were high levels of carbon monoxide in their building, making it necessary for all the windows to be broken.
The panicked workers used chairs to shatter the glass, KFOR reported.
But when firefighters conducted a test for deadly gas, they found nothing untoward.
“It is a little upsetting that [the prankster] would try to give the fire department a black eye,” Thomas Larman of the Shawnee Fire Department told KFOR. “We would never do anything like that. We’re here to serve the public, protect the public.”
Since the advent of the new year, the bizarre prank has descended on unsuspecting fast food workers like a plague. Each time, the spiel is the same, relying on employees’ trust in firefighters and fear of an invisible, deadly force.
Said the caller to a Wendy’s in Phoenix: “Break the windows of your restaurant. Right now.”
And they did.
After the glass is picked up, the restaurants are left to contend with the damage and the costs. $35,000 for the California Burger King; $10,000 for the Oklahoma one.
No estimate yet on how much the hoax will cost the Coon Rapids establishment. No leads yet, either, on the perpetrators.
In the meantime, the missing windows have been replaced with telltale wooden boards. Customers craving a Whopper can still get their fix at the drive-thru, but the main restaurant is closed.
Coon Rapids Police Capt. Tom Hawley told CNN that the culprit could face felony charges for terrorist threats and criminal damage to property.
The police said in a statement that they “WOULD NEVER call a resident or business to take action of any kind.”