CHICAGO—An otherwise routine e-mail-checking session went wrong when college student Gwen Petersen, 20, accidentally opened a message sent by her Aunt Sophie in Michigan, sources reported Monday.
After correctly identifying the sender as KalamazooLady5237@aol.com, her mother's sister and a 57-year-old guidance counselor present at Petersen's birth, Petersen attempted to properly delete the unwanted correspondence as she had many times before. But one mistaken click of the mouse began an ordeal that would overtake Petersen's in-box for several minutes—thrusting the history major into an HTML-formatted world she "never intended to see."
"As soon as I clicked on it, I realized what I'd done, but by then it was too late," Petersen told reporters following the error. "With as much time as I spent talking to her on her birthday and Thanksgiving, something like this was bound to happen. I should have been paying closer attention."
The moment her computer's hourglass icon finished spinning, Petersen was subjected to a vast compendium of mass-circulated poetry, pet humor, and inspirational aphorisms with vague underlying religious motivations. Without needing to scroll down, Petersen further noted that the e-mail featured a background wallpaper of cartoon ducks, as well as numerous typographical errors and a large banner spelling out "You got 2 love this!" in a rainbow-colored, bouncing font.
The e-mail was also embedded with a midi version of the song "Wind Beneath My Wings."
"Maybe it was the hangover or my roommate distracting me," said Petersen, who, after realizing the roughly 17 different attachments had begun slowly loading despite her objections, passed the time scrolling through the two pages of addresses the message had previously been forwarded to. "The multicolored fonts, the smiley faces, the six exclamation marks after the subject line 'Just a little something to brighten your day'—to think, this could have all been avoided."
Though the e-mail validated Petersen's worst fears about acknowledging correspondence from her only living aunt, sources close to Petersen said that once a looped-motion animated gif of a cartoon teddy bear appeared, waving its paw in a jerky back and forth motion, she was unable to tear herself away.
"Once she started scrolling, she was like a deer caught in the headlights," said Petersen's roommate, Kay Chiang, who witnessed Petersen's accidental exposure to no less than five LOL cats and a list of reasons why aunts are better than cookies. "I don't understand what the big deal is. I taught her how to use the spam filter months ago, and you don't see me getting e-mails from my godmother once a week."
Since her aunt uses a brand of PC that, according to Petersen, "no one has ever heard of," the e-mail also contained a number of attachments incompatible with the operating system of Petersen's laptop, further delaying matters by coming through as incomprehensible code. Unfortunately, a video montage of babies covered in soap suds set to the song "Splish Splash" downloaded and began playing without delay.
Looking back on the incident, Petersen acknowledged that she had only herself to blame for her predicament.
"It was my own fault, really," Petersen said. "But once I saw it, the thought of my Aunt Sophie, sitting in her slippers at her little desktop computer in her basement rec room, smiling as she typed in my address, was too much for me. It took every scrap of energy I had left to close the seven new applications the e-mail had opened up, hit the reply button, and type 'Funny! Thanks for sending love Gwen!'" Petersen said.
An initial scan with Norton AntiVirus showed that Petersen's computer had been infected with more than 25 separate viruses.