Free-Range Kids

Video of an Alleged 'White Van' Kidnapping in Springfield Went Viral. Nothing Actually Happened.

Police say there were no reports of attempted kidnappings.


A Springfield, Ohio, man spotted a white van—and it's always a white van—that he thought was trying to kidnap a girl. This man, Kevin Johnson, screamed at the girl that the driver was "trying to take her," and chased the vehicle away while filming the incident for social media. The van got away, but the video went viral on Facebook.

Springfield's WHIO TV followed up with the authorities to discover whether there had been any substantiated reports of attempted kidnappings. Police spokesperson Lou Turner told reporter Katy Anderson that the cops had received not a single complaint:

"We've had this for probably about a year, people saying there is a white van trying to pick up females," Lt. Lou Turner of the Springfield Police Division said. "We have never had a complaint saying somebody tried to pick them up."

Police did get a report from Johnson, but never a call or report from the girl Johnson said he saw talking to the person in the van.

When police check up on such incidents, Turner said, "it's always 'it did happen' and then you go talk to them and it's 'oh, well it happened to a friend' or 'i heard this from a friend.'"

Officers have talked to the men in the white van, who told police they are in the area for work.

"Everything so far is in the clear. Everything has been up and up," Turner said.

The two-minute story is a great piece of paranoia-puncturing—until the very end, when Anderson says, "Anyone who sees something suspicious or is a victim of a crime like this is urged to call police immediately to report it."

A crime like what?

The fact that the reporter ended her otherwise sensible story this way means that we must once again consult Frank Furedi, a professor of sociology emeritus at the University of Kent in England. He wrote Paranoid Parenting back in 2002, long before most of us (except Nick Gillespie, in 1997) started noticing the trend that would later be dubbed helicopter parenting.

But more recently Furedi wrote How Fear Works. One of the fear-reinforcing trends he noticed was the way a certain type of story becomes popular in a culture. In our culture, the story of a kid snatched off the street and sold into sex slavery is so incredibly resonant, the media considers it a sure-fire hit. From Liam Neeson movies to Law & Order episodes, it's a reliable fictional plot. But it's also a staple of the news, whether the story is real and tragic or whether there is no story there at all.

When there actually is no story, this presents a problem for the media: How do you report when nothing happened? The answer, it seems, is to report on what might have happened, had the worst-case scenario occurred.

As an example, at the beginning of every school year I wait for a story somewhere in America where a bus driver accidentally drops a kid off at the wrong bus stop.

This completely anodyne event is often reported as not just newsworthy, but a near-death experience. The reporter interviews a grim-faced cop who is just relieved nothing terrible happened and a mom thanking God that her precious darling is safe.

If you are victim of a "crime like this," then there's good news—you are not the victim of a crime at all.

NEXT: Can a City Refuse To Use a Foster Agency That Discriminates Against Same-Sex Couples?

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  1. What is it about white vans that scare the shit out of parents? I would be much more suspicious of some tattered brown Cheech-n-Chong van with shag carpeting in the back. A white van looks like a work van. It’s normal.

    Nothing in this story indicates what set up the report. Was the driver talking to the girl? Doesn’t say. Was he offering candy? Asking her inside? Doesn’t say. It’s just a white van. This is crazy.

    1. White vans are ubiquitous, so “the threat is everywhere”.

      If they were looking for a purple van with a wizard peering into a crystal ball painted on the sides, it would narrow things down too much to be convincing.

    2. I would assume that there were actual crimes involving white vans at one point.

      Where I grew up, it was red pickup trucks.

      1. Born in the 70s, the only crime I can recall involving white vans was when the Feds rolled onto a compound in Waco TX and opened fire on women and children while claiming self defense.

        Years later 2 men started shooting random people on the east coast, again a white van was reported as the vehicle they were using, we later found out it was an old blue Chevy Caprice.

        Yet the white van still haunts the media.

  2. Officers have talked to the men in the white van, who told police they are in the area for work.

    Cop: So, what kind of work do you do?
    Van: Sex trafficking
    Cop: Carry on…

    1. Ok that was good. Well done.

  3. “and chased the vehicle away while filming the incident for social media.”

    I don’t see anything unusual about this story. Seems like everything else on social media.

  4. I’m gong to retire in a couple of years [hang on here, I’m not a bot…] and this is what I’m going to do. Get me a beat up old creeper van [white, with sufficient rust] and just idle around, watching people lose their shit over it. It’ll be a sensation,

    1. For bonus points, occasionally throw a handful of tootsie rolls or butterscotch’s at nearby small children. That way you can either be trying to kidnap them or poison them.

    2. Do you have a GoFundMe yet?

      1. Great ideas; Hadn’t thought of go fund me. I was thinking just dropping a piece of candy every hundred yards or so would be sufficient to induce hysteria.

        1. This is perfect! You should also just drop a little hint on the page or app- you know the one where they like to call police and stir shit up when people drive slowly down a street where kids are playing (never occurred to them that they are trying to NOT run over a child who might chase after a ball in the street), or when they report a random black person walking down a street minding their own business. No shame, that site.

    3. I literally had a neighbor call the cops on me for driving in my own neighborhood in a white van. After following me through the entire neighborhood to make sure I didn’t get away or steal anything I suppose. Then I followed the cop back to the guy’s house and started laughing at him and yelling at him out the window.

      The next day, the jackass drove by my house and started taking pictures with my kids outside.

      Who’s the creep?

  5. The two-minute story is a great piece of paranoia-puncturing—until the very end, when Anderson says, “Anyone who sees something suspicious or is a victim of a crime like this is urged to call police immediately to report it.”

    Why would I even watch local news if there aren’t white van traffickers around every corner that they can report on?

    1. If you see something say something; it’s how we’re being inured to report on each other. Do you seriously think Uncle Bernie is going to be able transform the country all on his own?

  6. If you are victim of a “crime like this,” then there’s good news—you are not the victim of a crime at all.

    Not even the victim of a kind of HATE CRIME?

  7. This has obviously been a pet peave of mine for awhile: parental hysteria over alleged child kidnapping stories. Of course I understand why parents buy into these stories: they love their kids, the media keeps telling them there is all this violence that doesn’t exist, and social media has exacerbated this because trolls start fake stories that well-meaning parents then share. And this is why we have this trend where people think that there are all these child kidnappings that are not actually occurring.

    We had urban legends when I was a kid. One was to the effect of, “my sister’s friend’s cousin was babysitting, and she heard a crash in the basement, and she went down to investigate, and there was a broken window with blood dripping from it. Someone tried to get in to get her, but the invader ran away.” Of course the story was never first-hand, it was always about someone who heard something from someone. That’s what most of the child kidnapping stories on social media are.

  8. . . . and when he went around the car to let his date out, there was a bloody hook hanging on the door handle . . .

  9. “there were no reports of attempted kidnappings.”

    That’s exactly what the kidnapper would say.

  10. There actually is a guy in my neighborhood with a white van who comes around eye-balling the kiddies on a regular basis. Sick bastard even has pictures of various types of ice cream on the sides of the van, a bell and a loudspeaker on top where he plays this annoying little tune that gets the kids running to see him. So far, he’s only been selling them ice cream but we all know there’s some kind of sick game going on here. He’s up to something, I’m sure of it.

    1. He’s playing the long con.

  11. Since I am pedantic, WHIO is for Dayton and not Springfield. Springfield is considered a (distant) suburb of Dayton.

  12. No one wants to kidnap you, Karen.

  13. Meanwhile in Japan; Parents send their 3 year olds down to the local market to pick up basic necessities and to teach them to be independent.

    By age 7, they are taking two trains and a bus to school…all by themselves.

    1. Then again, no one in Japan is having kids these days, so this is rapidly becoming a relic of a bygone era.

      1. Someone in Japan is having kids these days….or they wouldn’t have a TV show documenting kids performing their first errands for mom and dad.

    2. My brother and I were going to the store together at 4 and 6 across the main street.

  14. The minimum penalty for making false allegations of white-van chicanery should be castration and clitoridectomy.

    1. You get both? I guess in today’s gender-fluid culture that could be possible.

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  17. A few years ago I took my Great Niece and two of her friends for ice cream. After fighting to get their car seats installed we finally left. As I was pulling into the ice cream shop a State Police car pulled in behind me, blocking me in. I was asked to get out of the car and the officer looked inside. He said “Car seats!” and then started apologizing. He said that they had got a report of the girls being abducted along with a description of my vehicle and the license number. A woman driving by had seen me putting the girls into the van and called the Police.

    1. Good tip! Next tip I go out in my white van to abduct children I’ll be sure to put in some child car seats.

      Why would someone abducting children drive a white van instead say a grey minivan with bumper stickers supporting the local grade school, girls soccer team, and puppies.

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