WILLITS, 5/11/17 -- The Willits Police Department is now reporting that the suspected potential child abduction that was reported last night was in fact a false alarm. Upon review of security footage, no evidence of an abduction could be found, and the child, who is five years old, has since changed his story. However, the mother of the child, Shanoa Mitchell, publicly contradicted the WPD's story on Facebook.
Yesterday afternoon rumors went out about a potential child abduction at a local elementary school, Blosser Lane Elementary. The incident was notable in that Mitchell posted a video of herself on Facebook, recounting the story, in evident distress. Then she stated that her child had said that a man attempted to abduct him, had picked him up, and tried to run off with him. She added that when she had called out for the child the man had dropped him.
Mitchell has since contacted the WPD and provided a different account. The WPD Facebook post states that, "WPD received information from the victim's mother that the child had changed his story and had not been physically abducted as originally reported." It adds that the security camera footage doesn't back up the story told by the mother.
However, as these things tend to, the video became viral on Facebook and was reposted around the county, with many comments accruing. As of the publication of this article, the video had more than 35,000 views. The Willits Unified School District even made a short statement and sent out a robo call to parents with students in the district.
But, today's message from WPD states that in fact there is not any strong evidence of any abduction. Sometimes five-year-olds tell stories, sometimes the truth is murky and takes some investigating to get to the bottom of.
At the risk of editorializing, The Mendocino Voice would like to urge caution in matters such as these. It is very easy for rumors to spin out of control in the absence of evidence, and Facebook is a perfect venue for wild speculation.
Many of the comments on these various threads denounced the police for acting too slowly, when what we've learned is that in fact the police seem to have acted appropriately, and sought corroborating evidence before arresting anyone or taking other action.
This story is still developing and we'll be updating as we learn more.
Here is the text of the post the Willits PD put on Facebook:
Attempted Child Abduction not as Originally Reported
Yesterday, May 10, 2017, at approximately 6:20 PM, Willits Police Department received a call of an attempted child abduction of a five-year-old from the Kid's Club at Blosser Lane School. The victim reported he was grabbed and carried off by a stranger. He said his mother started calling him and the stranger dropped him. Officers responded, investigated, and detained a subject who was in the area that had fled from the officers. WPD determined that this was not the suspect in the attempted abduction.
On May 11, 2017, WPD received information from the victim's mother that the child had changed his story and had not been physically abducted as originally reported. In addition, the security camera footage from the children's club was reviewed and did not substantiate the victim's original version of events.