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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Heroin Needle Hoax Continues to Haunt McDonald's Ball Pits

by Ken Newquist / September 30, 2002

"Mommy ... it hurts!" Those words struck fear into the heart of Kevin Archer's mother ... but that fear was nothing compared to the horror she felt the next day when she found her son dead of a heroin overdose. The child had been playing in a McDonald's ball pit when a heroin-filled syringe had pierced his bottom, sending the deadly drug coursing through his veins.

It's a horrifying tale ... but it isn't real.

Date Captured: March 1, 2000

i got this e-mail today. it is very important. Hi, My name is Lauren Archer, my son Kevin and I lived in Midrand. On October 2nd, 1999 I took my only son to McDonald's for his 3rd birthday.

After he finished lunch, I allowed him to play in the ball pit. When he started whining later on, I asked him what was wrong, he pointed to the back of his pull-up and simply said "Mommy, it hurts."

But I couldn't find anything wrong with him at that time. I bathed him when we got home, and it was at that point when I found a welt on his left buttock. Upon investigating, it seemed as if there was something like a splinter under the welt. I made an appointment to have it taken out the next day, but soon he started vomiting and shaking, then his eyes rolled back into his head.

From there, we went to the emergency room. He died later that night. It turned out that the welt on his buttock was the tip of a hypodermic needle that had broken off inside.The autopsy revealed that Kevin had died from heroine overdose.

The next week, the police removed the balls from the ball pit and lo and behold. There was rotten food, several hypodermic needles: some full; some used; knives, half-eaten candy, diapers, feces, and the stench of urine. If a child is not safe in a child's play area then where? You can find the article on Kevin Archer in the October 10, 1999 issue of the Midrand Chronicle.

Please forward this to all loving mothers and fathers.

Two years later, I got a new and "improved" version:

Date Captured: September 30, 2000
SEND THIS TO ANYONE YOU KNOW WHO HAS SMALL CHILDREN, NIECES, NEPHEWS, OR GRANDCHILDREN!

Some of you might not be parents, but you may have nieces, nephews, or grandchildren that this will pertain to. As I read the following, my heart sank. I urge each and every one of you to pass this on to as many people as you can. I cannot stress how important this is!

This is very disturbing news. In addition to the following true story, I will also add that my own sons were playing in the ball pit at Discovery Zone one day One son lost his watch, and was very upset. We dug and dug in those balls, trying to find the watch. Instead, we found vomit, food, feces, and other stuff I do not want to discuss. I went to the manager and raised heck. Come to find out, the ball pit is only cleaned out once a month. I have doubts that it is even done that often. My kids will never play in another ball pit.

Now read this:

"Hi. My name is Lauren Archer. My son Kevin and I lived in Sugarland, Texas. On October 2, 1994, I took my only son to McDonald's for his 3rd birthday. After he finished lunch, I allowed him to play in the ball pit.

When he started crying later, I asked him what was wrong.

He pointed to his back and said, 'Mommy, it hurts.' I looked, but couldn't find anything wrong with him at the time. I bathed him when we got home, and It was at that point that I found a welt on his left buttock. Upon investigation, it seemed as if there was splinter under the welt. I made a doctor appointment for the next day to have it removed.

In the meantime, he started vomiting and shaking. Then, his eyes rolled back in his Head. We immediately went to the emergency room! My only son died later that night. It turned out that the welt on his buttock was the tip of a hypodermic needle that had broken off in his skin. The autopsy revealed that Kevin had died from a heroine overdose.

The next day, the police removed the balls from the ball pit and found rotten food, half-eaten candy, diapers, feces, the stench of urine, and several hypodermic needles."

(If you question the validity of this story, you can find the article on Kevin Archer in the October 10, 1994 issue of the Houston Chronicle.)

Please forward this! to all loving mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Note: Some children have also gotten lice from ball pits.

It's every parent's worst nightmare. One day your baby is fine ... and the next he's dead. That's the fear that this e-mail is counting on in order to get itself forwarded. And as you can see, it's grown even more disturbing over the years. Now it's not just garbage and heroin needles you need to look for, but lice too!

Here's the deal:

  • The Houston Chronicle's Debunks It: The validity of this hoax rests upon one seemingly solid pillar: an article in the "Midland Chronicle", which was later morphed into the "Houston Chronicle". So let's knock that pillar out from underneath this putrid piece of net filth, shall we? The Houston Chronicle has posted a debunking of this hoax -- specifically the kid dying from a heroin overdose from a ball pit -- that states point blank that it never wrote an article on such an event, and that the event in question never happened. Read their debunking here. As for the Midland Chronicle, it doesn't exist, but the Reporter Telegram does. I couldn't find the article on their site (it's only a 14 day archive) but Snopes.com says that paper debunked it as well.
  • McDonald's Debunks It: I specifically opened with the Houston Chronicle debunking because I know that some people won't believe McDonald's debunking of this hoax. But given that they're the one's directly affected by it, I wanted to give them a chance to comment. I wrote them in 2000, and this is what they had to say: "We have thoroughly investigated this rumor and it is absolutely not true. There have been no such incidents ever reported at any McDonald's. In addition, there has never been an article in any newspaper regarding this rumor. Unfortunately these types of rumors bring unnecessary concerns for our customers. It is important to know that safety is a top priority at McDonald's, especially as it relates to children. We take many precautions to ensure our Playlands are safe."
  • Where's the News? I will quickly admit that this is not proof ... just common sense. In today's scandal-hungry, terrorism-haunted world, it is impossible for a story this big to be reported by only one newspaper. If it really had gone down in 1994 (or 1999) everyone would know about it. Hell, everyone knows about the woman who sued McDonald's and won millions for spilling hot coffee on her groin -- don't you think having a little boy die from a heroin overdose in a ballpit would be even bigger news?
  • Ball Pits and Head Lice: This is a new wrinkle to the hoax. I did some research, but couldn't find anything specific about head lice in ballpits, so I'm presuming it's not an epidemic. My understanding is that head lice can't survive long away from a human host, so if lice do fall off in the ball pit, they probably croak soon after. It's head-to-head contact that's the problem (and which is probably likely to occur any time kids are playing with each other, be it on the playground or in a ball pit). You can learn more about lice by checking out this article at Parenting.com.
  • Ball Pits and Sanitation: So what about the rest of the garbage allegedly found in ball pits? The Milwaukee Sentinel did a story on them and found that most of them were, surprise surprise, clean. I searched for other articles, but found none. Could there be dirty ball pits out there? Sure -- hell, I bet there are some damn nasty ones -- but hey, as a parent you should be checking this sort of thing out before your kid dives in (by, say, checking the maintenance record, noting the overall cleanliness of the playground/restaurant, etc.)
  • Repeat Offender: By the way, if you think this hoax sounds familiar, it's because in addition to its various mutations, there was a similar hoax a few years back about a rattlesnake killing a kid in a Burger King ball pit. That one was false too.

Nuketown's not the only site that's debunked this hoax. You can find other debunkings at these sites: