With a rumor of an attempted child abduction at Village Green by “men dressed in black” running rampant on social media and even rearing its head at a recent public meeting, Police Chief Frank Sousa said Thursday that there was no truth to it.
“There was a kid in the park. It was two other kids who had a jar of candy. They approached him. They said, ‘Do you want a piece of candy?’ He said, ‘no’ That’s it,” Sousa said.
Sousa and his police department were facing a mini version of “The Crucible” this week and finally put out something on Instagram to allay fears that the so-called incident on Monday was checked out.
“Please be advised that there is no visible threat regarding the safety of our children on Village Green,” the message concluded. “We have increased police officer presence in the area.”
In the modern version of the game of Telephone, social media soon turned the message into something nefarious. It’s reasonable considering the times.
The WhatsApp chat group “KB v. Causeway” was abuzz when someone picked up another social media post that stated “child nearly gets kidnapped yesterday at 7 p.m. in the park by two men dressed in black offering him candy. The kid ran away after an attempt to grab him.”
Louisa Conway, who has run previously for Village Council, posted to the WhatsApp group: “police are on high alert.”
The rumor mill hit an apex at the community meeting Tuesday night when another failed candidate for council, Andy Herrera, mentioned the kidnapping attempt and Village Manager Steve Williamson shut him down, saying it was not true.
Chief Sousa said his department took the report seriously.
“It was given the attention that it rightfully deserved,” he said. “Because of the way it was spreading and the amount of phone calls we were receiving, we put out a statement so that the community knows that we’re aware of it, and that it wasn’t what was being portrayed.”
Kira Grossman, who has two children ages 5 and 7 is the administrator for the WhatsApp chat KB v. Causeway said when parents saw the media posting about the men in black that of course they took the report seriously.
“For something like this I’m not concerned in terms of the rumor mill,” she said. “I would rather be on high alert, then not to have any information at all.”
She said she reposted a report from another social media app and then saw another one in Spanish from a concerned mom. It also made sense to her that Village Green would be the place on Key Biscayne targeted by would-be abductors.
She said with Miami being a hotspot for human trafficking, “Everybody should be worried because that is the society we live in.”
Sousa, though, said parents need to know police are on the lookout for any threats.
“So this isn’t what is being portrayed; however, if it was, we would have every asset deployed to it and we would work with our partners,” Sousa said. “Fortunately, that’s not the case because this is a safe community and we’re going to continue keeping you safe.”
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JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV. You can reach him at [email protected]