Bedtime arrived, but Monday night our agitated 8-year-old wasn’t ready for us to turn out the lights or pull up the covers. She was scared she would have bad dreams and feared what had happened to a little boy she didn’t even know.
Grownups hate to see a frightened child — especially when that child is one of their own. Our girl was affected by the words of a uniformed police officer who came to our door to tell us that a 10-year-old boy from the neighborhood had been grabbed off the street and whisked away in a white van with ladders on the side. Children can’t turn loose of such news, for when a kid about their age is in trouble, they’re all in trouble.
She didn’t know the boy’s name but she was worried about him and deep down inside she was worried about her own security. She asked poignant questions, ones we couldn’t answer. She was bone tired from a morning at Vacation Bible School and from the first afternoon of a dance camp at CSU, but fear was overcoming fatigue.
Before she settled down and before I read her a bedtime story, she gave me explicit orders.
“Papa, when you take the dog out late tonight be sure and lock the kitchen door,” she said.
Fears began when our door bell rang just after 10 o’clock. Doors were locked and the alarm was set for we never have visitors at that time of night. My wife peeked out the dining room window and said it was a policeman and that he was shining his flashlight all over our yard.
The officer was one of group of patrolmen who were riding through our neighborhood hoping to uncover information about a 10-year-old boy who was riding his bicycle with two 12 year old friends. Other boys said that around 8 p.m., someone forced the youngster into a white van and drove away. They even took his bicycle.
“I saw a bicycle in your garage and stopped to check it out. I noticed right away that it was a girl’s bike, but I came to your door in case you had seen me walking around your yard and shining my flash light,” he said.
We were still on edge Tuesday morning and so was our little one. She asked about the missing child when she woke up and I found a brief news report on WRBL-TV’s website. But it seemed strange that our smartphones hadn’t sounded off with an Amber Alert. We’re constantly notified about missing children all over the state but there was no word about the incident around the corner.
Our neighbors were also asking questions, especially ones with children or grandchildren.
By late afternoon, WRBL reported the 10-year-old was safe and on the 6 o’clock news reporter Joey Ripley aired an interview with Mayor Teresa Tomlinson about the alleged abduction. That report included interviews with people who lived near the child.
Police were cautious. They knew that no one had filed a missing person’s report and that parts of the story didn’t compute. Authorities could only release information found in the police report so it was left up to Tomlinson to explain what happened.
She said that by 10 a.m. Tuesday police learned it was a misunderstanding and that the child was safe. The mayor said it was a grandfather who picked up the child in that white van but that the other boys did the right thing by telling adults what happened.
“Everybody was emotionally caught up for awhile, but it happened just the way it should have,” said Tomlinson, who cared enough to go by the TV station on 13th Street Tuesday evening to go on camera with Ripley.
The story had a happy ending. The 10-year-old boy was safe and no charges were filed.
Still, there should be a way for authorities to distribute information during a momentary crisis such as reports that a child is missing. An entire neighborhood was left on edge. They feared for a boy everyone thought was in trouble and they feared for their own children. Thankfully Ripley and the mayor did what they could to calm those fears.
But what about the next time?