BELFAST, Maine — A message found Thursday evening in a bottle floating in Belfast Harbor sparked a massive two-community search for a possible kidnap victim. “Please HELP sex offender has me on boat,” reads the note, which was scrawled in black crayon and found in a plastic Sprite bottle by a Belfast boater, police said.
“The first thing that came into my mind [was] the 11-year-old girl out West who was raped and held hostage by her abductor,” said Police Chief Jeffrey Trafton. “We’re working on a law enforcement bulletin. We’re going to go nationwide.”
He said police officers and the harbor master checked “every boat in the harbor” Thursday night and again Friday morning. The department’s next step will be to cross-reference a list of people who hold moorings with a list of known sex offenders, Trafton said. The department has learned that the Sprite bottle is from a series that has been distributed for only a week and a half, so the note is no older than that.
The police are asking the public for help.
“What we want people to do is just wrack your brain a little bit. Did you see something unusual in and around the harbor?” said Belfast police Detective Michael McFadden. “Please let us determine if whatever you saw has anything to do with this.”
McFadden said Friday that police don’t know whether the note is legitimate.
“Certainly, we want to err on the side of safety,” he said.
Crews from the U.S. Coast Guard, Searsport Police Department and the Maine Marine Patrol also searched Thursday night for anything unusual.
Curtis Barthel, commanding officer of Coast Guard Station Rockland, sent a three-person crew to Belfast with the station’s small response boat, which arrived at about 8 p.m. Thursday.
“They shined the spotlight, seeing if there was anything peculiar, anything odd. There weren’t even any lights on the boats,” he said. “It was very quiet.”
Barthel said it is impossible to know exactly how long the bottle had been drifting.
“It could almost come from anywhere,” he said. He had another question, too.
“Somebody had that much time to write all that information out, I would have thought they’d have written a name or something,” he said. But Trafton cautioned that if a person were writing under stress, they might not have been thinking rationally.
“You can Monday-morning quarterback all you want,” Trafton said. “Maybe the person only had a short amount of time.”
McFadden said it’s not unusual for police to receive notes of this nature, but the delivery method is much less common.
“We get them in the mail, and in e-mails, and so on,” he said. “In my recollection, I can’t remember one coming in the form of a message in a bottle.”