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.

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  1. I then made a dead sprint to the car, threw my daughter in and locked doors.

    She’s fortunate no one there aware of their surroundings witnessed this scene and called a possible abduction scenario into police on her.

    1. It’s possible abduction scenarios all the way down!

    2. 🙂

    3. From a Mother Jones article the same day:

      Sarah and Janus described how their trip into fly-over country highlighted the danger in every city. Sarah feels lucky that few people question her status as a transgender woman, but Janus sometimes feels that her 6′ stature draws unwanted attention to her in rural rest stops. While on a road trip from New York to Chicago with some cisgender male friends, they slept in their minivan to avoid confrontations at a motel. They entered a local restroom to change clothes early in the morning. What they saw, shocked them. A woman lead a girl into the restroom tightly gripping her had to prevent the girl from escaping. She detained the girl in a handicapped stall and locked the door so she could do heaven knows what. Sarah tried to alert Janus that the little girl was in trouble as they changed clothes. That’s when they woman realized she was about to get caught and fled the scene.

      1. +1

      2. Link or article headline? Searching MoJo for “Janus” doesn’t bring up anything that looks useful.

  2. This is reckless journalism.

    It’s probably a spellcheck thing, but you misspelled “regular-ass.”

  3. Wait: you’re using a national statistic to prove this woman didn’t experience what she experienced? That’s it?
    Crack team of reporters you got here Reason. Been picking up Buzzfeed rejects or something?

    1. National statistics do nothing to disprove that this woman experienced a panic attack at a rest stop, it’s true.

    2. This woman certainly experienced what she experienced. I don’t think there is any question about that. The question is whether her interpretation of her experience has anything to do with reality. The national statistics don’t disprove anything. Nor do the events she described prove or even strongly suggest that 5 people were working together to abduct her daughter. I think all the statistics are meant do show is that it’s silly (and probably not good for your kids’ development) to spend a lot of time worrying about child abductions by strangers.

      1. Nor do the events she described prove or even strongly suggest that 5 people were working together to abduct her daughter.

        I don’t have time to get into it (work meeting in ~5 minutes), but all of the suspicious behavior she mentioned in her FB post have alternate, perfectly innocent explanations. And yes, it’s a good idea to be aware of your surroundings anyway and keep tabs on your kids in public – even though child abductions is a very rare phenomenon, it does happen sometimes – but people shouldn’t need to be told that.

      2. This woman certainly experienced what she experienced.

        I think even this is a bit hazy. “Just my daughter and I went inside” kinda implies that there were other people travelling with her. Their accounting of events isn’t presented.

        I’m sure the ~6′ tall female sasquatch that tried to abduct her child is sitting in a rural child molester bar talking about the one that got away as we speak.

      3. Statistics show that mass shootings at schools are rare but all schools now teach how to react to a mass shooting. This type of hysteria is taught to everyone trust no one and report everyone hence this woman’s reaction is not her fault she like others are being taught to react this way. Hence the dam Amber alerts on your cell phone that you have to actively opt out of.

  4. Don’t you know there are pedophiles hiding under every rock and behind every tree just waiting for a chance to molest your kids? IT IS KNOWN! /sarc

  5. Nice piece. If you use Microsoft “Edge”, you know that Microsoft is “partnering” with some sort of outreach program that pushes this sort of paranoia. I bitched about it here:…..ushing-the

    1. Tumblr… obviously.

  6. Females are prone to freak out over perceived danger to their children. It’s just the way it is. Humans aren’t the only ones playing this game.

    1. Yes, that will always happen. But I don’t think it’s a bad idea to encourage people to aim their anxieties toward more likely threats.

      1. There is definitely no reason to turn it into a news story and report on it like something newsworthy actually happened. It sounds more like something from The Onion: “Lady at Rest Stop has a Really Bad Feeling that Something Might Happen.”

        1. There is definitely no reason to turn it into a news story and report on it like something newsworthy actually happened.

          Yes, and I believe that is the point of this blog post.

    2. “Mother Bear Forced to Eat Hiker After Attempted Cub Abduction At Trout Stream.”

    3. I raised 5 kids and I don’t remember ever thinking someone was trying abduct my kids. Even when we were staying at hotel and gypsies checked, not once did I feel like they wanted my 3 year old though I was cautioned by the front desk. On another trip, I lost my then 5 year old son in the Port Authority bus station, called the police from a pay phone and when they found him, he was just standing there all alone with all kinds of questionable people passing by. No one needs to steal white middle-class kids.

  7. so we are driving home from Cincinnati and got off at a rest stop for a quick bathroom break.

    So I’m starting to think that beginning sentences with “So” is the new “You know”.

    1. Well, as long as people don’t start starting all their sentences with “well…”. That’s my thing.

    2. So I’m starting to think that beginning sentences with “So” is the new “You know”.

      You know it.

      1. If you took out the word “so” at the beginning of every sentence in an NPR interview, it would be half as long and still not contain any useful information.

  8. “Once we were safely in car I noticed 3 men standing in front of a gold minivan with all the doors open?”

    Because the normal thing to do at a rest stop in the middle of a long drive is to just sit in the car with the door closed. Right?

    1. The fact the other lady with her was probably 6′ made that *particularly* suspicious.

      1. You mean their well-orchestrated plan to get high and kidnap a kid (in the era of cell phones) being thwarted by some labored running sounds otherwise normal and plausible?

  9. (i didn’t have my phone or purse on me)

    Ladies, would this ever happen?

  10. The sad part is the daughter she mentions was 22 years old.

  11. Mother’s know that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. That is why they greatly overestimate the interest people might have in their daughters.

  12. The lesson here is to keep your kids in Pampers until they’re old enough to graduate to Depends?. Depends?, keeps your child safe from rest area sex traffickers for 12 hours or 500 miles, whichever comes first.

    1. It’s really cheaper to limit the kids to one cup of liquids every 12 hours and, really, you should be applying both solutions. Otherwise, you just know you’re going to wind up on a remote country highway and dry pampers will get rained on or you’ll have two wet kids and one diaper. And then the perverts win.

  13. I’ve had so many conversations with people who are absolutely sure that kidnappers are everywhere, just waiting for a chance to snatch their little ones. These kinds of stories are why.
    The fact is, nobody wants your little snot machine- hell, half the time you can’t stand the little disease vector yourself.

  14. As children we were of course drilled with the situational awareness tactics of the day (mostly, don’t get into a strange van). But my parents were very squeamish about talking about sex, so until I was quite grown I thought people kidnapped kids just to give them poisoned candy.

    1. Now only the H&R commentariat want to feed you poisoned candy. Who’d’a thunk it?

      1. That’s a waste of good candy. Just the poison for Tony.

  15. So the mom outs herself as a bigoted loon with paranoia issues.

    Why is this news?

  16. I read the source article. This is not a report about a woman reporting an attempted abduction. It’s not even about a panicky woman. It’s about a Facebook post about a tale of an attempted abduction, with no names, no followup! The link goes to the Facebook page of “Abby Sue”. The page has only the post in question and two generic pictures. Of course there are 16k “OMG” responses, No surprise there, since we know people are stupid.

    Long story. Good, unverifiable details. More than 10k Facebook responses. Got reported on the news as fact.
    This a “A+” trolling effort.

  17. I espcially like the part where she said that she thought the other lady was “on something.”

  18. My husband just retired from Children’s Protective Services. No one is ripping white middle-class children from their parents arms for sex trafficking. There are enough drug addicts and abusive parents out there who can’t take care of their kids who are willing to give their children up.

    I can’t believe how frightened people are these days. My daughters have an acquaintance who calls her mom for safety every time men drivers “surround” her car at night and she’s on the freeway. Her mother taught her that men do that so they can bump your car and then rape you when you pull over. She’s 27.

  19. And then there’s this-…..idnappers/

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