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Mass. cops seek serial ‘COVID hugger’ who threatened to give strangers COVID-19

The man allegedly came up behind several Walmart customers, hugged them and said ‘You now have COVID,’ police say

covid hugger.jpg

Police provided this picture of the suspect who allegedly hugged several Walmart customers, threatening to give them COVID-19.

Photo/Springfield Police Department

By Patrick Johnson
The Republican, Springfield, Mass.

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Police are seeking the public’s help in identifying a man who reportedly has been hugging strangers in Walmart and then telling them he has just given them COVID-19, police said.

According to police, the unidentified man walked up to a man in the Boston Road store, took an item from the man’s hands, and then gave him a hug.

He reportedly told the victim, “Just giving you a COVID hug. You now have COVID.” He then laughed and walked away.

This was reported to have occurred Aug. 15 at about 7 p.m.

The victim, a cancer survivor, was not amused and reported it to police. He said he had never seen the man before.

The man reportedly repeated this activity with other customers in the store, according to police.

Police spokesman Ryan Walsh said police do not consider it a laughing matter.

The man is being sought for assault and battery and making terroristic threats. The charge of assault and battery combines threatening behavior with physical contact.

According to Massachusetts state law, anyone who communicates a threat either directly or indirectly, orally, in writing “or by other means” can be charged with making terroristic threats.

Even if the unknown man has not tested positive for COVID-19, saying he that he does could constitute a threat. Walsh said it is would be comparable to making a false bomb threat when there is not actually a bomb.

Surveillance footage from the store shows a Black or Latino man with short dark hair, dressed in gray camouflage shorts, black sneakers, and a black shirt with the word Aero printed on the front. He was also wearing a mask.

Those with information should call the Detective Bureau at 413-787-6355, leave a private message on the department’s Facebook page, or send an anonymous Text-A-Tip to CRIMES (2-7-4-6-3-7), beginning the message with the word SOLVE.

©2020 The Republican, Springfield, Mass.