NEWARK, NJ — A homespun version of a nationwide Facebook rumor about sex trafficking and vans appears to have taken hold in Newark, inciting fear in residents that has made its way up through city council and board of education meetings.
Parked ominously on an unidentified street corner, a post of a picture of a blue van with a padlock on the back warns residents to keep their eyes open while word-of-mouth stories of attempted abductions spread across Newark’s residential Facebook groups. Latrice Jamison, a member of the South Newark District Facebook Page, called upon city officials to address the issue.
“With all of these abductions and attempts in Newark, WHY HAVE WE NOT BEEN ADDRESSED ON THE DANGERS? Why are ppl [sic] posting suspect van pics and not the NPD OR MAYOR?” Jamison demanded on Nov. 26.
The calls for action do not end there. Councilwoman LaMonica McIver motioned for the Department of Public Safety to put together a report on “missing child alerts” on Nov. 18 after hearing anxious testimony from citizens, requesting to know how many children have gone missing and for the department to issue an alert out regarding safety.
“Many people are kind of scared about the alerts we have been getting,” McIver said. “Many times kids are traveling, they’re on their phone not paying attention to their surroundings. I think it is important to teach our kids how to be safe from people who are out here picking up children on purpose and hurting them.”
Students themselves have also chimed in on the matter. Arts High School student David Daughtry voiced his concern for the lack of attention being paid to “missing” children at the Newark Board of Education’s Nov. 26 public meeting, claiming multiple incidents occurring over the course of “years.”
“Every few months, a student or child in Newark goes missing and it barely makes any press, most likely because their disappearances happen months apart, and it still seems that it’s not a big deal, but this issue has been happening for years now,” he said. “People are posting about being followed by those vans and almost being caught. Last week we had an incident outside Barringer high school.”
Director of Public Safety Anthony Ambrose says there is no truth to the allegations of missing or abducted children. Aside from recurrent runaways, there has been one arrest made in October for an attempted luring, but Ambrose said his department has no reports mirroring the claims circulating throughout the community online.
Most recently, a post alarming residents about the abduction of a 6-year-old girl off Hobston Street received more than 1,200 shares on Facebook. Kayla Steward, the author of the post, claims two detectives came to her door to investigate the incident. Ambrose told TAPinto Newark that there is "no truth at all" to the allegation.
"The van was spotted driving down my street! I'm scared and sick to my stomach, please God bring that baby home safe. Be careful everyone it's happening everywhere," Steward said. She could not be reached for comment regarding the information she shared.
According to reports, Newark is not the only city dealing with van abduction hysteria. Baltimore Mayor Bernard Young warned city residents to avoid white vans and to “Make sure you keep your cell phone in case someone tries to abduct you” after seeing the apparent hoax on Facebook.
However, like Ambrose, Baltimore Police said they had no reports to substantiate such claims. A man in Detroit was reportedly harassed for driving a van, which he uses for his home improvement business.
In the event of attempted kidnapping, Newark residents should report the incident to police immediately rather than post to Facebook. Administrators of Facebook groups appear to be cracking down on posts about the rumor.
“The admins received a post about the white van following a young girl. The person making the video must be more specific about the details before we will approve it,” wrote South Newark District Facebook Page administrator Douglas Freeman. “[Were] the police called?”