A La Mesa man spent more than a week in a mental hospital after he walked past a school in a "Spiderman" mask, touching off concern that he might be up to no good.
Hector Bertheau, 32, told 10News he bought the mask – which fits tightly over his head and covers all his features – in Tijuana. He claims he wore it off and on in public places during the past month.
"People said, 'Hey, Spiderman, look over here', so they could take a picture,'" he told 10News reporter Allison Ash.
But on Sept. 19, as students were arriving for class at Hillsdale Middle School in Rancho San Diego, Bertheau received a different reaction. The school's vice-principal confirmed the man in the mask was followed by faculty members, told he was scaring the kids and warned that San Diego County Sheriff's deputies were on their way.
Bertheau told 10News the children did not seem at all afraid, so he kept walking to his destination, the Rancho San Diego Library Branch down the street. A few minutes later, deputies arrived.
"They asked me when was the last time I smoked crystal meth," Bertheau recalled. He told them never.
Bertheau was questioned about his mental stability and after he told deputies he suffers from schizophrenia, he was handcuffed and taken to a mental hospital. He was released nine days later.
School officials and law enforcement take reports of suspicious people wearing masks and costumes seriously, especially since James Holmes dressed up as The Joker and allegedly gunned down dozens of people in a Colorado movie theater.
Holmes, who grew up in San Diego, is awaiting trial on multiple murder charges.
In Phoenix, Ariz. this week, a filmmaker was arrested after he got a teenager to point a fake grenade launcher at passing cars. The man was charged with knowingly giving a false impression of a terrorist.
In 2011, a San Diego teenager made national news when he dressed as "Gumby" and tried to rob a 7-Eleven store in Rancho Penasquitos. He remains free after a plea deal.
In light of those incidents, Bertheau said he understands why he was singled out.
"It makes a lot of sense, just from the things we've seen lately on the news and on TV," he said. "We live in a day and age where unfortunately the many have to pay the price for the mistakes of the few."
Bertheau told 10News his "Spiderman" days may be over.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department declined to comment on the case, saying to do so may violate HIPPA laws concerning medical privacy.