Tough call: When kids make up abduction stories

Boy's account of being chased and attacked on Northside Monday was false


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After just over 24 hours of investigation, police determined that the 12-year-old boy who claimed to be the victim of an attempted abduction Monday evening made up the story to cover up for getting his shirt torn and backpack stolen in a fight.

According to police, the boy said a tall white man attempted to abduct him after he got off a school bus at Highlands Elementary School following an after-school program at a different school.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said they were called to a report of an attempted abduction on DePaul Drive at 8:04 p.m. Monday. Tuesday night, police said they had developed information and evidence, including video surveillance showing that things did not happen as the described and asked the boy and his family to come into the Police Memorial Building for another interview. Police said the boy admitted that he made up the story so he wouldn't get in trouble with his parents for getting into a fight with another boy earlier that day.

Due to the boy's young age and after reviewing all of the circumstances, police said they chose not to arrest the boy for filing a false police report.

JSO officials added that they take any allegations of a similar nature very seriously and make every effort to fully investigate.

"We take all reports of any crime seriously. We have to. We have that obligation," Public Information Officer Christian Hancock said. "Children make up things and tell stories. We have to believe they are true from the get-go. When we do this, we expend resources"

This boy's story is not unique. On April 6, a 4-year-old girl said a man tried to kidnap her from an apartment complex in Arlington. On Aug. 2, a teenager claimed she was grabbed by a man while walking along Fort Caroline Road. In both cases, police found that the victims had lied.

"If we firmly believe that a story we are getting is not true, then we are going to take that avenue of proving it's not true versus proving that it is true," Hancock said. "In most cases police have to believe that the stories are told are true."

The story reporting Monday's attempted abduction generated many comments, some suggesting from the start that the boy was lying. It was a question that was discussed in our newsroom as well.

The Poynter Institute, which is a journalistic think tank and professional education center in St. Petersburg, is often asked how to report stories where there is a question of truthfulness by the victims.

Kelly McBride, Poynter's vice president of academic programs and a media ethicist, said it's a common problem faced by newsrooms. She said it's not just enough to report what police are doing, it's also the job of the media to hold back reporting if there is a question of truthfulness.

She admits that becomes difficult if it's a matter of public safety, but suggests working with police to see how they feel about a victims' claims.

"Just to let people know that, hey, police are investigating this, that's probably not a good enough journalistic purpose to go forward with a story that you have significant doubts on," McBride said.

UNCUT: Jim Piggott's interview with Poynter's Kelly McBride

News4Jax did ask the Sheriff's Office Tuesday for an off-the-record opinion whether investigators believed the boy's story. They replied they would have a statement later, which they did late Tuesday night when they announced the boy made it up.

News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said one example why police and the media have to take these reports so seriously is a situation that happened last month in Arlington, when an 8-year-old girl was badly beaten and sexually assaulted to the point she could not be recognized. Police are still looking for her attacker.  

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