SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - Springfield police responded to the area of Bissett Elementary about 3:25 p.m. after two young witnesses reported a possible child abduction. But, a tense hour later, police said all children from the school had been accounted for.
They asked parents to call them if they disciplined or had trouble with a child in area at time of report that could have been mistaken as an abduction report.
Spokeswoman Lisa Cox had confirmed earlier that officers were looking for a white, kindergarten-aged girl. A police lieutenant stressed all along that police were not calling the incident as it unfolded. He said police were treating the incident as the worst-case scenario.
Lt. Eric Reece offered the caution at about 4:45 p.m. He said the abduction report was based off accounts of two juvenile witnesses from the school. Police were also reviewing camera footage but said the area pointed to by witnesses is not an area captured by cameras.
Reece also said the report could have been a relative picking up a child, or something else unusual. However, about 5:30 p.m., Cox said the department was still treating the incident as a possible abduction.
The department had many calls from people who believe they saw the car in question. Cox said the search still continued though all children who left the building are accounted for, Cox.
About 20 Springfield officers were working the case into the evening. Cox said that does not include other law enforcement agencies.
The juvenile witnesses reported seeing a girl running from a man, and screaming. He grabbed her and threw her in the back of his car, said the witnesses, who did not know the girl's identity.
A text alert was sent to parents who have children in the school. The 280-student school is located in northwest Springfield and has a poverty rate of 85 percent.
Police issued this alert publicly: "Any parent who has a child unaccounted for or any parent whose child matches our description: call 864-1810."
The possible suspect was described as a black male in a grey or blue older, beat-up vehicle. Cox confirmed it was reported as last seen eastbound on Calhoun Street away from the school.
Police also described the suspect as being in his 20s, heavyset, with an orange shirt.
The victim was described as a young girl, likely age 5 or 6, with light hair wearing a pink shirt and blue jeans.
Springfield Public Schools issued this email about 5:20 p.m. to the media:
"Since the initial report of a possible child abduction, SPS school police have been working with the Springfield Police Department to investigate the report. To assist in helping determine if a Bissett student is missing, Springfield Public Schools sent a telephone message to all Bissett parents and teachers. In addition, SPS personnel are working with SPD to make phone calls to homes of children fitting the victim's description."
This is the message that was sent:
"Springfield Police Department and SPS school police are currently investigating a possible child abduction at Bissett Elementary School. The suspected victim is a kindergarten-aged girl with light colored hair wearing a pink T-shirt and jeans. If your child meets this description and is not currently accounted for, please call 911."
The school dismisses at 3 p.m. and the Ozarks YMCA operates an after school program at the school from dismissal until 6 p.m.
The school is at 3014 West Calhoun Street. Five city police cars and two school police vehicles were on the scene about 4 p.m. Parents arriving were upset — distraught, some screaming — as they tried to reach children in the school.
At about 4:45 p.m., a few children had been leaving the school, led away by parents or other family.
About 4:10 p.m., police officers set up yellow tape blocking off a parking lot in front of the school.