Free-Range Kids

Local News Uncritically Publicizes Mother's Kidnapping Freakout

A mom says her daughter was almost abducted at a rest stop. That's a stretch.


Rafael Ben Ari / Dreamstime

The headline is terrifying: "Mother gives warning after attempted abduction at rest stop."

And yet the story is anything but. See if you feel the same.

"A woman is giving a stark warning after she says two women and three men attempted to abduct her daughter at a rest stop on Interstate 74 in Indiana," reported in Columbus, Ohio.

Here's the mom's Facebook post:

PSA: so we are driving home from Cincinnati and got off at a rest stop for a quick bathroom break. Just my daughter and I went inside (i didn't have my phone or purse on me). As we were walking in some lady who appeared to be on something, was trying to talk to my daughter, I held her hand the entire way in and walked swiftly ahead. As the lady was trying to talk to us she was also lighting a cigarette which she immediately extinguished upon us entering building. We went to far end handicap stall and went in together. I heard the lady enter and she was talking to another lady about us heard her say "the little girl", I told my daughter we weren't washing hands and I was going to carry her out. As we leave I passed both women and the one that I originally saw had changed clothes and started to leave after us leaving her bag on the floor of the stall she was in. The other lady with her was probably 6′. I then made a dead sprint to the car, threw my daughter in and locked doors. Once we were safely in car I noticed 3 men standing in front of a gold minivan with all the doors open…We called 911 and reported it and I have this terrible feeling that had I not been aware of my surroundings my daughter may have been taken from me. It is a terrifying world we are living in []. I wanted to share to try to remind everyone to be aware of your surroundings, hold on to your children and stay off your phones so you are not distracted!!!

She may have a "terrible feeling" that a kidnapping was about to take place, but stranger danger is so rare that even the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children—the folks who put missing kids pictures on the milk cartons and neglected to tell us most of them were runaways or taken in custody disputes—has asked people to stop using the term. And David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, told me he had heard of no children ever abducted from their parents in public for sex trafficking purposes, which seems to be the main fear these days.

A private citizen spreading fear on Facebook (perhaps innocently) is one thing. A media organization uncritically promoting this hysteria is quite another. This is reckless journalism. Nothing happened, and in all likelihood, nothing would have happened.