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Candy Caper: The story behind Whistler's social-media superstar, Piñata Steve

What started out as a friendly prank quickly ballooned into a viral sensation

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If you've spent any time on the 10,000-member-strong Whistler Summer Facebook page recently, you may have noticed a certain inanimate, technicolour horse causing quite the stir. That would be none other than Piñata Steve, a rainbow-hued, candy-stuffed party prop that started out as a harmless prank between friends, and soon blossomed into a viral sensation.

In case you missed it, let's get you up to speed: Steve (Mr. Piñata? Señor Steve?) is the beloved mascot of local DJ Billy Shearer, a.k.a. Billy the Kid. Earlier this month, Shearer was using Steve to promote a house party, and perched his equine friend up on the mantle for all the revelers to see.

But when he awoke the next morning, Shearer noticed Steve was missing (along with a blow-up chimp called Paul and a stuffed gorilla named Tupac that the DJ told me "can stay lost" for all he cares. Drama!). Shearer waited a few days before going public, posting a photo of Steve to Facebook demanding his safe return.

Within the hour, Steve's kidnappers had responded with the social-media equivalent of a ransom note.

"Two guys in real shitty black clothes and ski masks holding Steve with a ransom letter," Shearer told me over Facebook this week while on vacation in Peru by way of explanation.

Their only demand? That Shearer post a safe-for-work picture of himself within 24 hours in an incriminating pose known as the, um, "mangina." It was either that or watch poor Steve become a discarded pile of birthday candy.

"I tactically waited the 24 hours, planning different outcomes and absolutely shitting myself because I didn't want Steve to die just because I wouldn't get my mangina out, which I do on the reg for free," he said.

Shearer eventually complied, posting the compromising photo, an air rifle in-hand, the words "You're bluffing" scrawled across his chest.

Meanwhile Shearer and his housemates were narrowing in on a suspect. Analyzing a series of posts by Steve's captors, they pieced together a few clues: they could tell the original ransom photo was shot in Staff Housing, for one, and they assumed, correctly, that one of the kidnappers, who was filmed in a video wearing a long-sleeve shirt in a hot tub, was trying to hide his tattoos.

They had their man. All they had to do was wait for the kidnapper to show up at Tommy Africa's where Billy the Kid worked.

"They were stringing all this together and one of (the housemates) suggested me, because I also work with Billy," revealed Alex Mitchell, who reluctantly outed himself as one of Steve's kidnappers in an interview this week with Pique.

"I went into Tommy Africa's... and we were going to go in and parade Piñata Steve around in front of him before handing it over. But as I sat down to enjoy a beer, I get hooked under the arms, grabbed behind the head in a headlock, ripped off a chair and then I'm looking up at two people in disguise in Halloween bunny masks... totally unaware of what's going on. They were trying to hog-tie me with duct tape."

It was just the latest misadventure in a caper that has captured Whistler's collective imagination. By this point, the whole ordeal had taken off online, with dozens of people posting their own photos with Steve (or a lookalike), and local bars using the colourful character to promote their business.

Even the kidnappers were surprised by the overwhelming response.

"It went from 0 to a couple hundred in the space of an hour, and then it just kept growing," said Mitchell's co-conspirator, Reamonn Thomson-Dudding. "By the end of the day, (the original post) had 1,100 likes on it, and we just went, 'Holy f#*@.'"

Out of work with nothing to do, the boys said their entire goal was to bring a bit of positivity to the often-cynical atmosphere of social media.

"It felt good that this was bringing a lot of happiness to people," Mitchell said. "That's why we kept our get-ups on: we didn't want the recognition, we were just using Steve to have some fun."

Now that Steve is a minor celebrity, Mitchell and Thomson-Dudding plan to share "the people's piñata" with the masses.

"We know it has to die, but once it does, I think we're going to put him out in the world and send him on (a trip)," Thomson-Dudding said. "Put a collar on him, a logbook and a backpack, and see where he goes. We want to allow other people to steal him."

Let's just hope Steve comes back in better shape than he did after "a three-day bender" last week that culminated in an epic foam party at Tommy Africa's.

"He came back a bit worse for wear," Mitchell said solemnly. "They pillaged his guts for candy."

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