Apparently white and blue vans have fallen out of favor.
It seemed as though most made-up attempted child abductions that occurred during the 1990s involved a suspicious white or blue van.
As a reporter sitting in a newsroom listening to a police scanner all day, urgent reports of attempted abductions of children by a man driving a white or blue van were met with, shall we say, hefty doses of skepticism.
Which 100 percent of the time, as far as I can recall, were well-placed.
I don’t remember one case proving true.
This week when it first was reported that two 10-year-old girls in Sanford told police a man in a black van with white doors attempted to abduct them, I remained skeptical, but that white-door detail made me hesitate for just a moment.
It was no surprise that within a day or two the girls’ story proved false, which most of all is something to be thankful for, yet is still disturbing.
Last February, a 12-year-old Lewiston girl reported her own attempted abduction from a streetcorner in Lewiston by a man in a black Chevy Blazer and just two months before that a 12-year-old boy from Bath reported that a bald man with a long beard tried to shove him inside a greenish, gray-colored minivan.
In 2011, the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office devoted a lot of manpower searching for a white car with a red stripe. A child in Hermon reported a man driving that car tried to coax her into it while she was waiting for the schoolbus.
The community and police were on high alert looking for the car when a week later an 11-year-old boy said a man driving a car of the same description tried to abduct him near Billings Road in Hermon.
The second report was proven false, a copycat situation, Deputy Chief Troy Morton said. Police in several towns spent a lot of time looking for the car, but it was never found.
While veteran reporters can afford to be skeptical, police officers handling such reports must assume they are true until proven otherwise.
“Of course any time we get a report like this it immediately becomes our top priority,” Morton said. “We call on all of our available manpower to investigate.”
The media often is quickly notified to put out warnings to all parents, and communities are upset.
Today’s kids seem to be more creative and specific than those back in the 1990s, who seemed stuck on the blue or white van.
The kids who make the false reports may be more imaginative, but the fear such reports cause in parents everywhere is no different than it was decades ago.
Even though abductions by strangers are extremely rare, according to law enforcement experts, the fear of it happening to your child remains one of a parent’s greatest concerns.
Some online readers reacting to the most recent false report suggest the two 10-year-old Sanford girls should be charged with filing a false report. Most often that doesn’t happen.
“I think it’s important to try to figure out why the child did it,” Morton said. “Is there something else going on in the child’s life that caused them to do this?”
In some cases it’s a signal for attention and in others it’s an attempt to divert attention from some other behavior or activity that the child may have been involved in, he said.
Generally, police departments dealing with such cases will work with the family and try to understand the cause of the behavior and possibly suggest follow-up visits with a counselor.
Each report of an attempted abduction of a child is terrifying and it should be. Occurrences may be rare but they are not nonexistent. About 100 children a year in the U.S. are abducted by strangers, according to the Polly Klaas Foundation, a national nonprofit group dedicated to children’s safety.
Reporters are skeptics by nature, but parents and police should not be and should continue to take proper and reasonable precautions when an attempted abduction is reported.
Renee Ordway can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.