A 22-year-old Sylmar man arrested on suspicion of making false claims about a possible active shooter at the Los Angeles County Fair did so because he was hoping to avoid going to the fair with his parents, Pomona police said.
“It was with the intent that it would spark some chaos and commotion,” Pomona Police Chief Michael Olivieri said at a news conference Saturday. “It would be captured in the news media. And then he could use it as an excuse to his parents not to go to the fair. Kind of a crazy thing, but that’s what we have learned.”
Erik Villasenor, who lives with his parents in Sylmar, was arrested late Friday on suspicion of emailing the threat to the fair association, Olivieri said. The chief said that in the email Villasenor told fair officials that “someone was planning on doing a mass shooting Sunday at the fairgrounds,” and he just wanted to “inform you guys.”
“And that was all that was said,” the chief added. “So obviously in today’s world a message like that is very concerning.”
Detectives, assisted by the FBI, identified three potential suspects who could be connected to the email address and then narrowed it down to Villasenor, Olivieri said. Authorities then descended on Sylmar to make the arrest.
“He ultimately admitted it was a hoax,” Olivieri said of Villasenor’s alleged claims about a shooter. “He was taken into custody and transported to the Pomona City Jail, where he was booked on those threats.”
The chief said his department would be seeking reimbursement for the investigative resources devoted to the threat. Olivieri said the case was quickly resolved in large part because of the safety measures the city and fair organizers had already put in place.
In the wake of recent mass shootings around the country, the L.A. County Fair’s operators had beefed up security.
“In light of the environment, we’ve made significant investment to make sure our guests and employees are safe,” Miguel Santana, chief executive of Fairplex, told The Times in early August. The private nonprofit Fairplex operates the fair, which is underway at its 487-acre facility in Pomona through next Sunday. “We always take security seriously, but we’ve made a deliberate effort to strengthen our security system.”
Fairplex has spent $200,000 to build a command center in the fairgrounds where police, fire officials and other emergency staff can coordinate a response to an emergency, Santana said. Extra video cameras were added to monitor the perimeter of the grounds, as well as metal detectors, and a badge-scanning system to screen fair employees and contractors before they enter the grounds.
After Friday’s incident and the subsequent arrest, Santana said there was a silver lining: “It provided us an opportunity to test the kind of security systems that we have worked so hard to create.” And the outcome, he said, was “great.”
He had a message for people planning on going to the fair: “We have your back.”