The man in the white van: Port Townsend police investigate reports of child-luring
By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“We are talking to everyone we can, even though it could decrease the likelihood of our catching him,” said Officer Luke Bogues, Port Townsend Police Department spokesman.
“But the most important thing is to prevent another incident, even if we end up scaring him away.”
Child-luring attempts by a man with a white van were reported the past two Wednesdays at about the same time — 8 a.m. — near the middle school at 3939 San Juan Ave.
Police are treating the two reports as related, even though there is no solid evidence the two attempts were made by the same person.
“They are in the same geographical area, and the vehicle description is the same,” Bogues said.
“The second incident could be a copycat or someone else entirely, but they have enough in common that we are treating them as related.”
In both cases, 11-year-old students — a boy and a girl — were on their way to Blue Heron Middle School on their bicycles when a man attempted to coax them into a white van, the children said.
The approach differed in the two cases.
In the Oct. 2 incident, sixth-grader Ashton Hoye, who was identified to the Peninsula Daily News by his mother, said a man in a white van blocked his path and offered him candy.
In last Wednesday’s report, an unidentified 11-year-old girl said a man in a white van told her that her mother had asked him to take her to school.
In both cases, the children fled, Ashton with a firm “no, thank you” and the girl after asking the man her mother’s name, which he could not provide.
“Both of the kids did the right thing,” Blue Heron Principal Diane Lashinsky said.
Lashinsky sent a letter home after the first incident and a voice mail blast to every parent in the district after the second.
Ashton reported that the man had white facial hair, missing teeth and was wearing a dirty white T-shirt, dirty jeans and a blue Oakland A’s baseball cap, while the girl described the man as being in his 50s and wearing a black hooded sweatshirt low over his face.
She saw no facial hair and said he had a nose-piercing.
She also told police that the white van had three windows down the side and two on the back doors, although she said the windows were opaque, perhaps because they were obstructed.
Ashton said the van had no windows.
That contradiction doesn’t concern Bogues.
“In a moment of crisis, people have a ‘fight or flight’ reflex, and they don’t always recall events correctly,” he said.
“In many cases after a shootout, one officer can say six shots were fired, while another will remember five.”
Police did not identify either of the children. Ashton’s identity was voluntarily disclosed to the PDN by his mother, Shannon Callahan.
“It makes it more personal. People see that if it can happen to us, it could happen to anyone,” Callahan said.
“A lot of people thought this couldn’t happen here. Now that it has happened twice, they are paying attention,” Callahan said.
“I think the police and the schools are taking this more seriously now.”
Jefferson County Sheriff Tony Hernandez complimented both children for their conduct but added that it was important that parents alert their kids to what he calls “stranger danger.”
“Kids shouldn’t talk to anyone they don’t know,” he said.
“If anyone approaches them and tries to get them into a car, they should run the other way and make a lot of noise.”
The danger of taking candy from strangers has been emphasized for several generations, but predators still use that ploy, Hernandez said.
Other approaches include asking for help finding a lost kitten, feigning sickness or pretending to have a message from their parents, he said.
“Kids should be told that if someone they don’t know tries to talk to them, they should get away very quickly,” he said.
Bogues said the department has received many reports of white vans that have turned out to be dead ends, but he encourages people to keep calling.
“We’d rather get too many reports and have them not check out than not get enough,” he said.
Anyone with information is asked to phone Detective Devin McBride at 360-390-8938.
Anyone seeing a suspicious person or vehicle should dial 9-1-1, police said.
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: October 12. 2013 6:22PM