UPDATE, March 17: Berkeley police issued a Nixle alert at around 12:45 p.m. with regard to the possible child abduction attempt described below. The alert details what the 9-year-old student says happened, and says the driver of the van was a black man in his 20s or older, with shoulder-length dreadlocks. The passenger in the van was described as a Hispanic man in his late 20s, 5 feet 9, with a thin build and dark straight hair. It remains unclear if the incident relates to a series of attempted abductions from last fall that involved a green minivan. Read the full alert.
ORIGINAL STORY: Malcolm X Elementary School is on alert after a young girl reported that two men in a green van followed her to school on Monday, March 14. One of the men got out of the vehicle and tried to grab her, prompting her to run away. The description of the van is similar to the description of a vehicle used in one of the five child abduction incidents in the fall.
Alexander Hunt, principal of Malcolm X, sent an email about the incident to the school community Wednesday afternoon, and said the Berkeley Police Department was investigating. According to Hunt, the young student left her home in the 2900 block of Harper Street around 8 a.m. to walk to Malcolm X on Prince Street near Ashby Avenue.
“The student reported that a green van pulled into a driveway in front of her, with two men in the vehicle,” Hunt said in the email. “They waved her ahead/told her to go ahead. The passenger allegedly got out and was walking behind her. The child said she felt him getting closer and reach for her, and she started to run to school.”
The student did not report the incident to school officials, but told her mother, according to Hunt.
Hunt did not reveal the student’s age.
Berkeley police first heard from the mother the evening of March 14th but has not yet interviewed her or the child for logistical reasons, according to Sgt. Andrew Frankel, a police spokesman. However, an officer is planning to speak to the mother today. “He’s looking into it,” said Frankel. “Whether or not a crime has occurred I can’t say definitely.”
In the fall, there were five child abduction attempts in Berkeley, all of them involving middle-school-age students. Three abduction attempts took place Sept. 18, and two others took place Oct. 18.
The first three incidents took place Sept. 18 as students walked to Willard Middle School, at 2425 Stuart St., between Telegraph Avenue and Regent Street, between 8 and 8:30 a.m.
One involved two girls on Telegraph near Stuart Street. In another, a girl was walking alone on Derby Street — the northern boundary of Willard — east of Telegraph. The other incident, on Stuart east of Telegraph, involved a boy.
Police noted previously that the boy, however, had long hair and investigators believe it’s possible the man in the van mistook him for a girl.
In that case, the vehicle was described as a dark green older model minivan, possibly a Nissan Quest with rear tinted windows. The man was described as Hispanic, 30 to 40 years old, with dark hair and a mustache, heavyset, wearing a brown-and-tan-colored baseball hat.
On Oct. 18, three girls were walking on College Avenue and Webster Street at about 6:10 p.m. when a man near a van yelled at them to get inside. When the girls ran away, the man chased them on foot. Police said there was another incident earlier that day with a middle-school-aged girl.
Both Oct. 18 incidents involved a black full-size cargo van, without side or back windows. The suspect in those cases was described as Hispanic, 20 to 30 years old, with dark hair and a mustache.
Police said at the time that they did not know if the incidents were connected or done by the same person given the differing description of the vans.
It remains unclear if the incident relates to a series of attempted abductions from the fall of 2015 which involved a green minivan. But police detectives are “canvassing the neighborhood looking for potential witnesses or similar vehicles. The community is encouraged to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior as well as to contact the Berkeley Police Department at (510) 981-5900 if they have witnessed this event or have additional information.”
All the principals at Berkeley’s 11 elementary school were briefed about the incident, said Mark Coplan, the spokesman for the Berkeley Unified School District.
“We’re troubled that the description is once again a green van,” said Coplan. “We are trying to get some direction from the police department if it is the same van.”
Berkeley police are uncertain if the abduction attempt is related to a series of attempted abductions from the fall of 2015 which involved a green minivan. The Berkeley Police Department takes the safety and security of its children very seriously and Detectives are canvassing the neighborhood looking for potential witnesses or similar vehicles. The community is encouraged to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior as well as to contact the Berkeley Police Department at (510) 981-5900 if they have witnessed this event or have additional information.
Editors’ note: This story was updated after Berkeley police realized the mother of the girl had contacted the department although she had never filed a report.
Police use license plate reader in kidnapping attempt investigation (10.30.15)
Berkeley Police announce 2 more child abduction attempts; new vehicle description (10.21.15)
Authorities respond to 2 incidents at Malcolm X School (09.21.15)
Berkeley schools on alert after 2 abduction attempts (09.18.15)
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