Abduction hoax not funny, productive or good for anyone

Posted: Sunday, June 17, 2001

What in the world were they thinking?

You can chalk it up to kids being bored, kids acting out their overactive imaginations, or kids just being kids, but there's nothing that excuses the stunt three teen-agers pulled Wednesday afternoon.

The three -- two 18-year-old boys (in our book, their actions don't qualify them as "men") and a 17-year-old girl -- staged a fake abduction at the intersection of Kenai Spur Highway and Bridge Access Road.

The kids may have designed their one-act play to be of momentary shock value to their audience with the curtain falling as soon as they drove away, but their theatrics had serious consequences with the action merely getting under way after they sped away from the intersection.

Imagine being a motorist, pedestrian or other onlooker who happens to be in the right (or wrong) spot at the right (or wrong) time to witness what appears to be a girl with her hands bound behind her escaping from a car, struggling with a captor and being forced back into the car against her will.

What would you do?

Call the police, we hope. And that's what happened Wednesday afternoon.

Witnesses to the incident were obviously concerned about the girl's safety. Anyone who was listening to the police scanner Wednesday afternoon could not help but imagine the worst.

At least a dozen officers and dispatchers from the Kenai Police Department, the Soldotna Police Department and the Alaska State Troopers were involved in the wild goose chase that ensued. It's estimated that each of those dozen people spent an hour to three hours on the case -- close to the equivalent of one person's working week. That doesn't include the necessary followup and paperwork.

Because of the serious nature of the case -- an apparent abduction -- other legitimate calls and cases were bumped from the priority list. It diverted emergency resources that could have been put to good use elsewhere. It could have hampered the response to a real emergency.

It was, at best, a stupid, stupid idea, which not only wasted valuable time, money and community resources, but also caused people who saw the incident emotional trauma. People would be less than human if they saw what appears to be a serious, violent crime and did not suffer some distress over what they saw.

At worst, the hoax was akin to calling in a false alarm or a fake mayday. There's nothing funny about such a stunt; other lives can be put in danger by such calls.

The kids should be ashamed of their cheap theatrics.

They also should be punished for their actions. At the least, they should be made to pay the costs incurred by the various police agencies for responding to the hoax. Some form of very visible community service also is in order, and a public apology would definitely be appropriate.

One of the potential damaging effects of such a stunt is that it could cause witnesses to think twice before getting involved again. That could be the worst that could happen.

No one could blame witnesses to Wednesday's incident for being angry; after all, they were duped by a trio of bored teens, who played on and preyed on people's emotions for kicks. That doesn't mean next time won't be the real thing, however. Police want citizens to call, no matter what. Someone's life may well may in danger; it's always better to be safe than sorry.

Other damaging side effects to Wednesday's stunt include building distrust in the community and perpetuating stereotypes. People who saw the car the teens were using Wednesday will look on all similar cars with suspicion -- and maybe some anger and fear. They also may look suspiciously at other teens -- thinking they're up to no good or not quite believing what they say, even when those teens may be in serious trouble.

There are some valuable reminders and lessons from Wednesday's hoax for the entire community.

First, we are lucky to live in a place where things like abductions -- real or otherwise -- are rare and people are not afraid to get involved. Let's all work to keep it that way.

Second, everyone wants to live in a community without fear for their safety. Such a community takes everyone's participation. We are either part of building a community up or tearing it down. Let's all resolve to be the former, not the latter.

Third, kids with the time and imagination to stage a fake abduction have too much time on their hands and too much creative energy to be wasted on things that hurt instead of help. How much better if all that creative energy could be channeled into helping others instead of causing a stir for the shock value. Adults need to guide young people into constructive activities; kids should know there is no excuse for being bored -- someone could always use the help they can give.

Finally, we shouldn't let a few bad apples spoil the bunch -- or one incident destroy a reputation. We understand the teens involved in Wednesday's hoax do not have a history of being in trouble. They showed terrible judgment and immaturity with their prank -- and they should face the consequences -- but we would guess most of the peninsula's other teens were involved in some constructive activity at the time of the prank. The vast majority of teens are filling their summer days with jobs, camp, summer school, church or other volunteer work and good, clean fun. And that's just as it should be.

We don't know what those teens were thinking Wednesday. Our guess is they weren't thinking at all. Our hope is that they have now given plenty of thought to the seriousness of their actions, and they realize every action carries consequences beyond those we can see immediately.

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