Police seek abduction suspect
Police are asking for the public’s help in identifying a man they say tried to lure an 11-year-old girl away from the Great Smokies Craft Fair by pretending he was a security officer at the flea market on Saturday.
The man can be seen in security footage leading the girl away from a snack bar at around noon Saturday. Police said he was a white male, 35 to 45 years old, bald, about 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighing around 170 pounds. He was wearing white T-shirt, camouflage shorts and sandals.
The girl escaped when he tried to grab her hand and take her purse after they reached the parking lot outside the facility. She ran back to her mother; the man took her purse and was not seen again.
She told police the man claimed he was with security and that someone reported she had been shoplifting. He said she needed to follow him outside so he could search her purse, and then led her outside.
When he reached out to grab her and take her purse as they reached the parking lot, she realized something was wrong and ran inside.
The craft fair has a security officer who was on duty at the time of the incident, and he started searching for the man before police arrived, Stahlke said.
“Once he was informed he immediately started searching for the suspect but was unable to find him," Stahlke said.
While some businesses use security officers in plain clothes to search for shoplifters, Stahlke said, they should have some form of identification and shouldn’t ask for anyone to leave the premises with them.
A legitimate security officer should have no problem calling for the parents of a child as young as the one in Sunday’s incident, and if a child is approached by someone claiming to be security, they should ask for their parents, he said.,
If for some reason their parents aren’t present, they can also ask other store personnel whether the person really works there.
In most instances, police won’t interview children when their parents aren’t present, either, Stahlke explained.
“They really should in most circumstances have a parent there,” he said.