HANOVER TOWNSHIP, Pa. — A woman charged with terroristic threats for allegedly coughing and spitting on produce, meat and other merchandise at a Pennsylvania grocery store earlier this week was arraigned Thursday in the back of a patrol car to curb the potential threat of spreading the coronavirus.
Margaret Ann Cirko, 35, of Hanover Township, is charged with two counts of making a terroristic threat, one count of threatening to use a “biological agent” and one count of criminal mischief. All are felonies, according to the Hanover Township Police Department.
Cirko is also charged with misdemeanor charges of criminal attempt to commit retail theft and disorderly conduct, authorities said.
The store in which the crimes were committed, Gerrity’s Supermarket in Hanover, lost $35,000 worth of food that had to be thrown out, the owners said.
“While there is little doubt this woman was doing it as a very twisted prank, we will not take any chances with the health and well-being of our customers,” co-owner Joe Fasula wrote in a Facebook post.
Fasula and Hanover Township police officials said the incident happened Wednesday.
“Police were called to the business after Cirko entered the store making verbal threats that she was sick while intentionally coughing and spitting saliva/bile on produce/meat/merchandise,” a news release from the Hanover Township Police Department said. “Cirko continued this behavior in several aisles before attempting to steal a 12-pack of beer as she was being ordered to leave the store by employees.”
Prior to being booked on the charges Thursday, Cirko was brought to a hospital for a mental evaluation. She was booked into the Luzerne County Jail with bail set at $50,000.
Fasula wrote on Thursday that he is “humbled” by the outpouring of support his family’s business has received from the public.
“While my previous post received an unimaginable amount of attention, this post is by far my most important,” he wrote.
Fasula offered guidelines for people to follow while visiting a grocery store:
1. Shop alone unless you cannot.
2. Shop only when necessary.
3. Plan meals and your shopping list carefully so you don’t have to return for several days or longer. Have a back-up plan to deal with shortages and limits imposed by stores so everyone can obtain what they need.
4. Keep your distance from others, especially employees. At least 6 feet is ideal.
5. Do not go to the store if you have symptoms. Find someone to shop for you or use online shopping until you are symptom-free for 72 hours.
6. Be mindful of what you touch as you shop and wear gloves if you have them.
7. Read the signs and notices carefully for policies and updates as the situation evolves.
Fasula joked -- a little -- on the last guideline.
“P.S. Rule 8: Don’t cough on anything,” Fasula wrote.
Cirko is not the only person charged with making terroristic threats for coughing on or otherwise threatening the supply at grocery stores. Two men were charged earlier this week, one in Missouri and the other in New Jersey, for contaminating items on store shelves.
Cody Lee Pfister, 26, of Warrenton, Missouri, was charged Tuesday with a second-degree terroristic threat for a March 11 incident he filmed at a local Walmart and uploaded online.
“A local resident who took a video of themselves licking the merchandise after making a ‘coronavirus’ statement at Walmart and posting it to social media has been taken into custody,” the Warrenton Police Department said Monday in a statement.
Pfister’s seven-second video begins with him asking, “Who’s afraid of coronavirus? Don’t touch your mouth.”
He appears to be referring to health officials’ recommendations that citizens refrain from touching their mouths or faces to avoid spreading the virus.
He then runs his tongue along a row of deodorant sticks.
The video went viral. Authorities said they received word of the video from as far away as the Netherlands, Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Click here to see the video. Warning: It contains some graphic language.
In the second case, George Falcone, 50, of Freehold, New Jersey, was charged Monday with making terroristic threats, harassment and obstructing the administration of law or other governmental function after he allegedly coughed on an employee at a Wegmans in Manalapan and told her he had the virus.
According to a news release, Falcone was at the grocery store around 6:30 p.m. Sunday when the employee became concerned that he was too close to her and an open display of prepared food.
Health officials have cautioned that people should stay at least 6 feet away from one another to avoid spreading the virus.
The employee asked Falcone to step back while she covered the food.
“Instead, Falcone allegedly stepped forward to within 3 feet of her, leaned toward her, and purposely coughed,” the news release said. “He allegedly laughed and said he was infected with the coronavirus. Falcone subsequently told two other employees they are lucky to have jobs.”
Falcone was allowed to go home that night by a police officer working security, but officials built a case against him.
“Exploiting people’s fears and creating panic during a pandemic emergency is reprehensible,” Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni said in a statement. “In times like these, we need to find ways to pull together as a community instead of committing acts that further divide us.”