The voicemail message on Ritchie Narges’ phone was an indication of things to come.
Narges, principal of Cumberland High School, stopped by his office shortly before 10 p.m. on Tuesday, May 15, on the way home from watching a game involving his son Max and other members of the school’s baseball team.
Narges checked the message on his phone and was surprised to have received a call from Biloxi, Miss. A TV station there wanted to speak with him about a class prank by four senior students at his school in which they combined mechanical skill and creativity to stage a car having crashed into the building.
The principal returned the call, talking briefly with someone at the station who wanted permission to use photos of the prank that school officials had added to a Facebook post about it. He granted permission, then headed home, thinking as he drove, “I wonder how that story made it all the way down there?”
‘It was wild’
Narges and the rest of Cumberland, a Barron County city of about 2,100, would soon learn that story had made it lots of places. The school’s Facebook post, along with Facebook and Twitter messages by Cumberland police on Monday, had attracted the attention of Eau Claire media. In ensuing days the account of the students’ exploits spread across the U.S., into Canada and as far as Europe and Asia.
Narges, Cumberland Police Chief Rick Rieper and the students who created the fake car crash received phone calls from countless media outlets, some of them among the biggest in the world.
Time magazine, the Today Show, CNN, BuzzFeed, CBS and NBC News, USA Today, countless Associated Press journalists, Inside Edition, People magazine and others called seeking insight into how and why those senior students — Konur Pasko, Cody Paul, Aidan Warner and Jacob Woodley — decided to pull off the stunt that involved hauling the back half of a junked car to school and affixing it to a bench against the building, then using black plastic and duct tape to replicate a hole in the wall and tire tracks behind the vehicle.
The students even found bricks to match the color of those the school is made of and scattered them on the ground near the supposed crash, adding a further touch of realism to passersby.
“We did try to make it look as realistic as we could,” Pasko said.
The story of those students taking such a detailed, thoughtful approach to the annual senior class prank seemed to fascinate news outlets across the country, Narges said. For days he struggled to keep up with the media onslaught.
“After those first couple of stories, it just exploded,” he said of media coverage. “The story got out there, and then it was like the others couldn’t get enough of it. It was wild.”
Rieper said he figured the prank might garner a few local headlines but nothing like the media deluge that occurred.
“Oh my God, yes, it was really something,” the police chief said when asked about press coverage. “For a little while it seemed like everyone wanted to talk about this.”
Pasko said he was “astounded” at media coverage surrounding the prank. Once the story got out on social media “it went crazy, in a good way,” he said, noting he and his classmates involved in the prank were contacted by many media outlets. “In a little town like Cumberland, it is exciting to have something like that happen.”
The display itself had become a celebrity of sorts since the four seniors had hastily set it in place shortly after midnight on May 14. During graduation day, May 19, many of the 1,200 attending the ceremony lined up to take photos with the car.
“It seemed like everybody wanted their picture with that car on graduation day,” Narges said of the vehicle affixed with a sign reading “CHS Class of 2018. We’re Bustin’ Out!”
Media interview requests continued until early last week, then subsided. Life has returned to normal at the Cumberland school and in the rest of town, with routine events at the forefront again.
Rieper said he received a couple of complaints from citizens worried the prank trivialized auto crashes. But the vast majority of responses were positive, he said, noting the car and the students who set it up were part of a Barron County anti-youth alcohol consumption campaign.
Narges agreed, saying the prank garnered lots of positive attention for Cumberland and its small-town life. He replayed messages left to him from people across the country praising the students’ initiative and school officials and police for not overreacting to the prank.
“It was a positive thing and we tried to celebrate that,” Narges said. “It’s not a perfect world up here. We have problems just like anyone else. But we have great kids and supportive (teaching) staff and a great community, and I think this shows that.”
On May 21, after school, Pasko and his three classmates removed the black plastic, tape and bricks at the site. They hauled away the car. Virtually no trace of the prank that had caused such a stir remained.
But Pasko hopes memories of the vehicle, and the lesson he wants the prank to have imparted, don’t fade as easily.
“Everyone needs a good laugh here and there to break up the serious points in life,” he said. “That was our main goal in pulling off this prank, to give everyone a good laugh.”
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