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The April Fool’s Prank Gone Awry
By Nancy E. Sheppard

Apr1 imageApril Fools Day is an unofficial holiday that some look forward to, while others loathe. It is usually one that most don’t take too seriously with harmless jokes and pranks. But April Fool’s Day 1992 saw no such lighthearted antics from two local "shock jocks” in our very own version of "War of the Worlds.”

Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach is not only a beloved local landmark but a marvel of modern engineering. Designed by Roland E. Dorer, Mount Trashmore turned a large landfill into an eco-friendly park with a large hill as the focal point. With ponds, swaths of green grass, and eventually playgrounds and skate park added to the grounds, Mount Trashmore is a welcomed oasis in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the tourist hub.

For April Fool’s Day 1992, famed shock jocks of WNOR-FM99’s morning drive time hour, Henry "The Bull” Del Toro and Tommy Griffiths, came over the airwaves at 6:30 A.M. to announce that they received a report from UVA’s seismology team, stating that dangerous levels of methane gas was leaking from Mount Trashmore and that it was on the verge of exploding. At first, listeners thought it was nothing more than just a prank and paid it little mind. But when other staff members reiterated the claim throughout the early morning broadcast, panic ensued. With Trashmore surrounded by neighborhoods, schools, and businesses, the buildings on the park’s periphery were evacuated, parents pulled their kids out of school, and phone lines to local police were clogged.

The City of Virginia Beach police department called the station, warning the deejays to suspend the broadcast. However, both Del Toro and Griffiths ignored the request, continuing on with what sounded like accurate statistics. Toni Cornelius recalled evacuating her home with her five-month-old child and thinking, "What if it blows up right now? What about my baby?” as she drove down Princess Anne Road past the park.

At 7:45 A.M., City of Chesapeake police officers arrived at the radio station and the broadcast ceased. The station manager issued a formal apology and both Del Toro and Griffiths were temporarily suspended without pay. However, this did not soothe the numerous people who were duped by the broadcast that April morning. Many expressed their anger quite publicly, some even calling for the permanent firing of the deejays. Eventually, their suspension was lifted and they returned to their usual morning antics.

On May 11, 1992, the Federal Communications Commission used the stunt as an example for the need to alter rules regarding fabricated news broadcasts, adding stiffer penalties upon anyone who dared to pull the same actions in the future.

Del Toro and Griffiths eventually went their separate ways, with Del Toro causing a stir due to continuous brushes with the law and for his public drug abuse. He died in 2002 from what were deemed to be "natural causes.” But nearly thirty years later, that April Fool’s Day is still remembered as a humorous footnote in Hampton Roads’ history.

As for Mount Trashmore, it continues to be a refuge for millions of guests, a delightful ecosystem for wildlife, and is in absolutely no danger of ever exploding.

For more about this and other stories of local mayhem, check out Nancy E. Sheppard’s book, Hampton Roads Murder and Mayhem (The History Press, 2018)!