On Wednesday, Sept. 20, the report of a potential attempted child abduction by a stranger in a red van in Sedalia had parents watching their children more closely and reporting suspicious vehicles to police.
“We got a call that a lady in a red van was in the neighborhood where some kids were out playing,” Sedalia Police Cmdr. David Woolery told the Democrat on Thursday, Sept. 21. “The lady had spoken to the kids from her vehicle, backed up to the kids, got out of the van and started walking towards them talking to them.”
The children’s mother was watching them from down the street and noticed the stranger approaching them.
Every parent’s nightmare is a child abduction, and the children’s mother reacted instinctively and yelled for the kids to run home, which they did, as did the suspicious woman.
The neighborhood sleuths provided a photo of a red van, which was captured on a home security camera and quickly posted to Facebook.
“They did provide us a picture of the van from a residential camera, so we do have a picture of the person’s van,” Woolery said. “We are still investigating it and officers are trying to locate the van.”
Wary neighbors were on the lookout for the suspect van and generated some excitement on Facebook by posting pictures of a similar van.
“We did, I believe, get a call from the same neighborhood,” Woolery said. “They saw what they thought was the van in the neighborhood and that van was stopped by a Highway Patrol officer; it's clearly not the same van. It has a completely different bumper and front grill and the lady who was driving the van had a completely legitimate reason for being in the neighborhood.”
SPD also posted the image of the first van to its website in hopes of determining the owner’s intent, but the van was quickly claimed by its owner to be his company flooring van, whose infamy had already erroneously spread to KMBC news in Kansas City.
Still, the story makes parents nervous and police take their concerns seriously.
“We're investigating it from what information we were provided,” Woolery said. “You know, it's not against the law to stop and talk to children. I think it's wise to assume the worst as a parent, you know, that something nefarious could be happening. The lady could have been asking for, you know, directions or whatever – we don't know.”
Whatever the intent of the grey-haired woman, police agree the mother acted quickly and correctly to minimize danger to her children.
“I think that's a very smart decision,” Woolery said, “and the right way to handle that, but again, we need to figure out what the person’s intent actually was. It does bring us to the realization of how important it is for parents to have that conversation with their kids ahead of time.”
Warning children of stranger danger shouldn’t wait until they are being approached by a potentially dangerous person.
“Make a plan,” Woolery said, “because you never know what someone's real intent is. People that are in a crisis, for whatever reason, don't make decisions normally. You must be aware of what's going on around you, your situational awareness. Don't let it be the first time you thought about it when you encounter somebody who has potentially bad intentions.”
Chris Howell can be reached at 660-530-0146.