Students at South High School in Torrance this week mourned Pfc. Joe Anzack, a 20-year-old Army gunner stationed south of Baghdad, after a rumor surfaced that he had been killed in Iraq.
On Monday morning, students who knew the South High alumnus cried. Others left messages of sympathy and last respects on his MySpace page. Student government members even posted a message on a sign outside the school that read: “In Loving Memory -- Joe Anzack -- Class of 2005.”
“It was so widely known that it seemed true,” said Principal Scott McDowell.
Except it wasn’t. Anzack was alive and well.
No one knows where the misinformation came from. But as soon as it hit South High School, it took off.
“It just spread like wildfire,” said Josh Waybright, the head football coach. “At the time I didn’t know what to believe.”
Waybright started getting calls about Anzack from parents, coaches and students Sunday night.
They said they had heard he had died in Iraq and offered their condolences.
He didn’t brush it off, even at a school that years ago earned the nickname “Mouth High” for being such a prolific rumor mill. The next morning, he called Joe’s grandmother, Betty Anzack, to see if the varsity nose guard he once coached had died.
It was the first the family had heard of it.
“Although I didn’t think it was true deep down inside, it really did a job on me. I just fell apart,” Betty Anzack said.
When Joe’s father, Joseph Anzack Sr., heard his son might be dead, he called the Red Cross to see if it could contact the Army.
Monday afternoon, there was a knock on his apartment door. His jaw dropped. But it was just the landlord.
At 8:30 that night, he got a call from his son, who had been told to contact his family. “Hey, Dad, it’s me,” Joe said.
“Wow, am I glad to hear from you,” he recalled answering.
After a short talk, Joseph Sr. called family and friends to reassure them that his son was fine.
By the end of the night, word reached the custodian, who took the epitaph down from the school sign.
And in Iraq, Joe had changed the caption at the top of his MySpace page to read: “im not dead .im still kickin.”