Police 'elves' protect Denver-area Santas

December 24, 1993|By New York Times News Service

DENVER -- Across the wall from a jail cell, 6-year-old Jessica Olsen sat on Santa's lap and shared her Christmas wish list, while an elf in a police uniform waited nearby with candy canes.

"I know why Santa's in the police station," the girl whispered after sliding off the bearded man's lap. "A bad man said he was going to hurt him."

In the latest chilling example that nothing seems safe anymore, shopping malls in Denver and its suburbs canceled appearances by Santa Claus this week after receiving anonymous threats from a man who said he would shoot anyone dressed as old St. Nick.

To salvage the holiday ritual, Denver police have invited Santa into their stations to listen to the whispered wishes of children.

"We feel we are better equipped to address the safety issues," said Police Chief Dave Michaud.

When the initial threat was received, police posted plain-clothes officers in the malls. But after a second letter repeated the threat and invoked the recent killing of four people at a suburban Chuck E. Cheese pizzeria, police advised mall managers to pull the Santas. No suspect has been arrested.

"Time is running out on that fatso," the second letter warned. "By Thursday he will be history, along with anybody that gets in my way. Chucky Cheese was nothing compared to this."

Disappointed children and their parents walked into malls Tuesday to find signs explaining that Santa had gone back to the North Pole and would be visiting their homes on Christmas Eve.

The letter writer, who claimed to be an expert marksman trained in Vietnam, complained that Santa Claus was making a mockery of the religious significance of Christmas.

The news of the threats stunned residents of Denver.

"What is the world coming to when you've got to go to jail to see Santa?" said Eleanor Loucero, a 69-year-old waitress.

Jessica's parents, Jon and Maggie Olsen, said she had been watching television when she ran in to tell them, "Some man is going to shoot Santa!"

On the drive to the police station to see Santa Claus, the little girl told them she was worried about the bad man.

"Is it going to be all right there?" she asked. "Is the bad man going to come there?"

Her parents told her, "Don't worry, they've got Santa in a safe place."

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