Free-Range Kids

An 8-Year-Old Girl Says She Was Almost Kidnapped. Media and Parents Freaked Out. It Was a Hoax.

Two days later, the cops figured out the story was make believe.

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When an 8-year-old Atlanta girl told local reporters that a strange man grabbed her while she was playing on the slide at recess, aimed a gun at her, choked her, and then ran off the minute the teacher blew the whistle to call the kids back inside, one veteran newsman doubted the sensational story.

Bill Torpy, a columnist at The Atlanta Journal-Constitutionimmediately texted a friend that this tale sounded totally fabricated—"a figment" of the girl's imagination.

A stranger with a weapon on the playground in the middle of recess? Snatching, choking, armed—and no one else noticed? Even Liam Neeson might pass on that script.

But the school was so shaken, it went into lockdown mode. (I do wonder if administrators are allowed to keep calm and carry on, or if there is zero tolerance for skepticism along with everything else.) For its part, local TV couldn't wait to run with the story, and even stick the the girl's mom in front of a camera. She was horrified that the school was so unsafe, and that the recess area was not completely surrounded by fences. (In the mom's defense I'd be a wreck, too. I'd just wish someone had pulled me aside to say that there was an overwhelmingly strong chance this incident never happened.)

Two days later, the cops declared the whole thing "unfounded." They'd interviewed witnesses and reviewed the playground surveillance cameras.

No guy. No gun. No attempted anything.

Torpy is glad, of course, that nothing happened. But he was pretty annoyed by the media's gullibility, or at the very least their inability to wait a beat or two before terrifying viewers.

Torpy called me to recite the stats for him. Stranger danger is blessedly uncommon: The vast majority of crimes against kids are committed by people they know. This is the safest time to be a kid in America, ever. Statistically, a child would have to be left outside, unattended, for something approaching 100,000 years before a kidnapping would become likely.

In his book, How Fear Works, Frank Furedi writes that all cultures have storylines that become so popular, they just keep getting repeated because they are a sure thing. Stick to what sells. For instance, if you buy a romance novel and at the end the mousy secretary is scarfing a pint of Chunky Monkey at home while her billionaire boss elopes with the vice president of compliance, you'd throw that book across the room.

The news media is no different. They know what sells: Unfenced schoolyards, the hidden menace.

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  1. Katy lies, you can see it in her eyes.

    1. It is about time, everyone posted in rhyme.

      1. rhyming means thinking
        alternative forms of prose
        often easier

  2. To be fair, the little girl was only 8 years old. You can’t expect an 8 year old to be able to pull off a Jussie Smollett on the first go, but give her credit for trying. She’s a smart kid, she knows what sells in the attention-whoring business and someday she’ll be a rich and powerful social media influencer. And don’t doubt for a minute that social media influencers in the forthcoming idiocracy will be the undisputed masters of the universe. When Twitter and Facebook and Google control the flow of information and everybody is grateful to be spoon-fed the pre-digested lumps of sweet, tender, juicy confirmation bias, this girl will be the one holding the spoon.

    1. At least until the robots take control.

      1. yeah they better figure out how to upload me before I get killed by my fridge. jerks.

    2. When Twitter and Facebook and Google control the flow of information and everybody is grateful to be spoon-fed the pre-digested lumps of sweet, tender, juicy confirmation bias, this girl will be the one holding the spoon.

      You just keep right on believing that Jerry.

  3. This is really not surprising when one understands that the media is a huge driving force in the fear-mongering machination that fans the flames of sex offender hysteria.

    Some victories are major and some are smaller, but don’t think for a second the media isn’t noticing that registered citizens are winning more and more of their challenges to these wildly popular sex offender laws. As more legal ground is gained, you can count on the fear-mongering machine to up the ante and fight tooth, claw, and nail in an attempt to turn back their victories.

    These laws are upheld by false statistics that have been debunked for years now. This is just too convenient of a scenario..the scary stranger on the playground trying to kidnap a little girl.

    The fact is that in 95% of child sexual abuse cases, the child is abused by a close family member, a close and trusted family friend, a teacher, a coach, a mentor, and clergy.

    It is also an established fact that most child sexual abuse takes place in the child’s own home, without regard to how close to a school, a park, or playground the house may be. Geographic proximities are irrelevant in child sexual abuse cases. IT’S SOCIAL PROXIMITY that counts in child sexual abuse.

    Look at one of the most vitriolic forces in sex offender legislation in Florida- Senator Lauren Book. She was molested as a young girl BY THEIR LIVE-IN NANNY. The Books could have had an estate out in the middle of the gator-infested Everglades and she still would have been sexually abused by that Nanny. Proximity of the Book residence to a school, a park, or any other place where children gather was totally irrelevant and yet they push with all their political might to ensure registrants have nowhere to go and no option in life.

    Now, WHO PUT THAT LITTLE GIRL UP TO TELLING A STORY LIKE THAT?? WHAT WAS THEIR MOTIVE? WILL THEY BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR A FALSE REPORT?

  4. The child’s family said the district’s response was not an adequate one.

    The district, in response, is having charges brought against the girl and billing the family for the lockdown.

    *** bites lip ***

  5. To give balance, let’s note that a little girl was apparently abducted off a playground in Bridgeton, NJ five weeks ago and hasn’t been seen since. The usual suspects – mom, dad, boyfriends, etc. – have apparently been cleared. I guess real stuff happens enough that media panics will keep happening everytime someone tells a story that involves hate crimes, child abductions, phone calls to Ukraine, and “chaotic mobs storming” congressional hearing rooms.

    1. The usual suspects – mom, dad, boyfriends, etc. – have apparently been cleared.

      Any cites on this or any of the rest of it? My understanding is that nobody witnessed the abduction and that police specifically can’t rule anyone or anything out because a significant portion of the people involved are immigrants of varying degrees of legality. Supposedly, Dad is/was in Mexico but nobody can confirm that.

      I’m not saying the family did it, but Jonbenet Ramsey and Nicole Simpson’s killers are still on the loose too.

      1. Don’t forget the monster who smothered Caylee Anthony. One day they’re going to track that monster down.

  6. “For instance, if you buy a romance novel and at the end the mousy secretary is scarfing a pint of Chunky Monkey at home while her billionaire boss elopes with the vice president of compliance, you’d throw that book across the room.”

    This line is pure gold.

    1. You can’t write boss with women as secretaries any more. #girlpower

    2. I don’t know about that. Honest romance novels may help the people who read such crap feel better about themselves.

  7. As my elementary teacher wife often tells parents of her students:

    “If you don’t believe everything your kids says about what happened at school, we won’t believe everything your kids says about what happened at home.”

  8. A stranger with a weapon on the playground in the middle of recess? Snatching, choking, armed—and no one else noticed? Even Liam Neeson might pass on that script.

    1. AFAICT, this girl single-handedly thwarted a school shooting and saved the lives of dozens of her teachers and classmates.

  9. I remember the good old days when a child claimed to be almost abducted, we instinctively to her to shut the fuck up and took no interest in any “alleged” danger.

    Lenore, methinks you are taking your free range cynicism a bit too far.

    1. In the good old days, when the claim was found to be a hoax, the kid got 5 across the eyes.

  10. Even Liam Neeson might pass on that script.

    Clearly you’ve never seen a Liam Neeson movie.

    1. Clearly you’ve never seen a Liam Neeson movie.

      If that’s not an alt-right Nazi dogwhistle, I don’t know what is.

  11. it went into lockdown mode

    That this does not cause people to pause and say, “Wait, what? A school, not prison, went into lockdown?!” is in itself troubling.

    1. Lockdown means everyone stays put and no one goes in or out. That could be a prudent strategy for myriad institutions. You’ve heard it used for prisons and assume it means it is only used for prisonlike institutions. Open your mind, bro. Don’t let words trigger you.

  12. “An 8-Year-Old Girl Says She Was Almost Kidnapped. Media and Parents Freaked Out. It Was a Hoax.”

    Eight year old to the world: “Suckers!”

  13. Let me guess, the guy’s name was Rumpelstiltskin.

  14. Children don’t lie, we must believe the children. Ask the McMartin preschool owners, they will verify what I have said.

  15. Wait until I tell the authorities about the time my 6-year-old met a talking tiger by our pond!

  16. Nonsense. Women never lie about abduction, rape, and violence.

  17. I guess Shapton and Jackason didn’t get to the camras and microphones quick enough to cause a media fire storm. This story is right up their racist alley. Oh I we don’t know the race of the child, just that a white who tried to grab her.

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