Report of suspicious vehicle near Walla Walla school raises concern

The Sheriff's Office says an investigation has turned up nothing to confirm the report, however.

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WALLA WALLA -- The Walla Walla County Sheriff's Office believes a report by a child of a suspicious van in the area of Prospect Point Elementary Thursday may be unfounded.

Still, the report to the law enforcement agency by the child and her family prompted a response to district families to be on the lookout for a suspicious vehicle and to remind children of safety procedures with strangers.

Sheriff's Capt. Bill White says a Prospect Point student who was on her way home from school Thursday reported seeing a girl in the back of a van, who appeared to have her hands bound and mouth duct-taped, shortly after school let out. The girl told the agency she saw a tan van, with Utah license plates, driven by a white man in his mid-20s with close cut hair and a moustache. She also said the girl was wearing a pink shirt and had shoulder-length blonde hair.

White said it is unusual for any witness to see so much detail on a single pass of a vehicle. The van reportedly passed the girl at the intersection of Reser Road and Howard Street as the student was riding her bicycle home from school.

Following a meeting with the child and her family, White said his agency began conducting a search of the area and surrounding communities, including contact with city hotels. The Sheriff's Office also contacted Walla Walla Public Schools to share the report and to learn if any child was missing.

That evening, the School District sent a message to area families cautioning them of a suspicious vehicle report in the Prospect Point area. District spokesman Mark Higgins said the notifications, which included e-mails and phone calls to district staff and families, were mainly a tool to remind families on safety with suspicious vehicles or strangers, but were prompted by the report to the Sheriff's Office.

"We're going to err on the side of caution when it comes to the safety of our students," Higgins said.

White said the district's message may have prompted concerned families to contact county dispatch for more information.

White stressed that so far the report does not appear to indicate any child is missing or in danger. There have so far been no other reports confirming the child's report, and no information from Utah law enforcement about a suspicious vehicle from that area.

"We did what we could to try to track it down," White said. "It's not really a verifiable incident."

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/schoolhousemissives.

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