Free-Range Kids

Viral Social Media Story of Attempted Child Luring Turns Out To Be Nothing

"You could hear they were trying not to laugh."


"Child luring incident!" read the warning that appeared last Friday on several Teaneck, New Jersey, social media pages.

"A man in a car pulled up and tried to get a child in around 11 am on 12/31/21," it said. "You can clearly hear the child say, 'I do not accept rides from strangers,' and 'no' several times before walking away. Then the driver laughed and said, 'I will follow you then'. Teaneck police have already been informed and are looking for any information on identifying the child, so please reach out to Teaneck police asap with any information."

The post was accompanied by footage from a Ring camera, the popular security cameras watching over much of suburban America. It showed a boy walking down a quiet street when a car slows down and someone talks to him.

If you listen very closely—more closely than you would have to listen to hear a worm breathe—perhaps you can make out the boy defying the driver. ("Clearly hear the child" seems to overstate it.) Then someone in the car adds, "We have candy!"

"I said, 'Don't put it on the site! I bet you a dollar it's nothing,'" recalls Keith Kaplan, a Teaneck town councilman who runs the Teaneck Today website in an unofficial capacity. But another one of the site's administrators, his friend, Deputy Mayor Mark J. Schwartz, pressed publish—and the news went viral.

"Then it was on, like, 10 different Facebook groups within ten minutes," says Kaplan.

The police got right on it.

But it took a few days for Debra Passner to notice it—and gasp.

"Oh my God, oh my God!" she recalls telling her husband. "Because there was a video of our car and our son!"

The Passners had been at a family celebration with their 14-year-old, who wanted to leave early (as 14-year-olds often do). He started walking home, with his parents' blessing. Later, when they were driving home themselves, they saw him on the street and slowed down to offer him a ride.

"My son, being a wiseass, says, 'I don't take rides from strangers,'" Debra Passner recalls. So she leaned over and called out, "Don't you like candy? We have candy!"

When their son shook his head, his father said, "Okay, then I'll follow you." But moments later, they drove on.

Once the Passners saw this online, they immediately called the police. "You could hear they were trying not to laugh," says Debra Passner. The Passners also posted under the video that this was their child, and no one should worry.

The police paid a visit, were satisfied with the Passners' story, and issued a press release stating: "Detectives identified the child and the suspects in the vehicle and determined that the child and the individuals in the vehicle were family members and no attempted luring had occurred."

This got shared online as well. "But then of course there's all the better-safe-than-sorry comments," says Kaplan, who recalled two similar times his town erupted in fear, only to learn nothing nefarious was going on.

Once was when some men in a van spoke to a child. They were out of town painters who couldn't find an address. Another time a woman gave a child a note. Kaplan can't recall the details, but it too was nothing.

Why was he so sure that this incident would turn out to be something mundane?

"Because experience tells me it's not the best use of people's time to go up and down streets with people standing on them if you want to find children to abduct," he says. "If it were, I would likely have offloaded one or two of mine."