CALGARY - Police say an ominous letter sent to Hutterite colonies saying a child would be abducted, tortured and murdered by a cult as part of a Halloween ritual is a hoax.

The letter was sent last week to schools at three Manitoba colonies, which shared it with three of their communities in southern Alberta as a warning.

The RCMP in Vulcan, Alta., about 100 kilometres south of Calgary, obtained a copy of the letter.

"We take it very seriously. We want to investigate this to our fullest capacity to make sure that this doesn't happen," said Const. Todd Olson from the Vulcan detachment.

"The more and more we've investigated we've found that this is basically a hoax. It is sent as a warning ... a bad joke," he said Thursday.

"We did our homework on it a little bit and we've turned up that there's nothing basically to support ... that it is going to happen."

Olson said there are no suspects but the file will remain open. He said charges could range from uttering threats to hate crimes if it can be proven the letters was religiously motivated.

Paul Hofer, pastor of the Little Bow Hutterite Colony near Vulcan, wasn't taking the threat seriously.

"I knew right from the start that it wasn't true. It was just a joke and people trying to scare us," said Hofer.

"I read a lot about that stuff years ago. There are cults out there but they use their own. They won't use a Christian. Satan worshippers, they try to torture their own ... trying to leave the cult."

The Hutterites are a reclusive sect that, along with the Mennonites, grew out of the Anabaptist movement. They live communally in colonies and believe church and state should be separate and that Christians should not take up arms. They live according to a strict code based on the Ten Commandments.

After centuries of persecution in Europe they eventually immigrated to Canada in 1918. Initially they settled in Manitoba and Alberta and later settlements were established in Saskatchewan. Some were re-established in the United States.

In 1995, the total Hutterite population was about 30,000 with two-thirds living on the Prairies.

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