Sunday, December 6, 2009

Amber Alert: America has lost its innocence

Hamptonville, Michigan—Reports of several missing children jammed the 9-1-1 emergency lines in the small town of Hamptonville, Michigan, last Thursday. State police followed up quickly by issuing an Amber Alert, identifying four children, all of whom reside on the same north side street.

A mother of one of the missing children discovered that her son and three other neighborhood boys left her front yard only minutes after she went inside to prepare an afternoon snack for them.

She used her cell phone to quickly call the two other mothers and the three of them met in the street, frantically calling for their kids. Other parents came out to see what was going on and, after a minute or two, 9-1-1 calls were being made by more than a half dozen people.

Hamptonville police initiated the request for an Amber Alert after learning that one of the neighbors witnessed a large man leading several children south. He was described as tall, white, middle-aged man wearing disheveled clothes, black boots, and a hat.

State police confirmed that abductions in broad daylight are not unusual, most happening in the vicinity of schools at the end of a school day. “This case did not fit the normal M.O.,” Sgt. Brian Mallory said, “both on account of it being a holiday and the fact that more than one child was involved.”

About an hour after the Amber Alert was broadcast, a police officer radioed headquarters that he had spotted the man and four boys in downtown Hamptonville and requested back up units. He told the dispatcher that the man was carrying what appeared to be a rifle.

Two additional Hamptonville police officers and a state police unit arrived within a five minutes, taking up positions at the perimeter of Downtown Square. Because the suspect and children were in the mostly open square, approaching the armed man without endangering the four boys was tricky.

Local police officer, Darrell Townshend, was eventually able to move closer to the group by darting from one bench to another, staying low to remain undetected. When he was within 10 yards of the suspect, one of the state police officers on the far side of the square hollered “Stop!” which gave Officer Townshend the opening he needed to put himself between the man and the children.

“At that moment, I saw that the suspect was not carrying a rifle, but rather a broomstick. He bolted out of the square and headed down Elm Street, the only street we hadn’t been able to cover,” Officer Townshend recounted. “By the time our backups made their way across the square, the man had disappeared around the corner.”

In a little town like Hamptonville, there is no police helicopter and only 25 police officers, three of whom are on duty at any given time. The abductor is still at large and, to date, no additional leads have been developed in this case.

One of the boys reportedly told his mother that the man had promised “Don’t you cry, I’ll be back again some day.”

Retired police chief, Keith Caruthers, recalled an almost identical situation that took place 59 years ago in Hamptonville when he was a rookie traffic cop. Lamenting the loss of innocence that his small town and the country as a whole has experienced since then, he picked up his guitar and sang a song about that long ago event:

Frosty the snowman was a jolly happy soul,
With a corncob pipe and a button nose
And two eyes made out of coal.

Frosty the snowman is a fairy tale, they say,
He was made of snow but the children
Know how he came to life one day.

There must have been some magic in that
Old silk hat they found.
For when they placed it on his head
He began to dance around.

O, Frosty the snowman
Was alive as he could be,
And the children say he could laugh
And play just the same as you and me.

Thumpety thump thump,
Thumpety thump thump,
Look at Frosty go.

Thumpety thump thump,
Thumpety thump thump,
Over the hills of snow.

Frosty the snowman knew
The sun was hot that day,
So he said, "Let's run and
We'll have some fun
Now before I melt away."

Down to the village,
With a broomstick in his hand,
Running here and there all
Around the square saying,
Catch me if you can.

He led them down the streets of town
Right to the traffic cop.
And he only paused a moment when
He heard him holler "Stop!"

For Frosty the snow man
Had to hurry on his way,
But he waved goodbye saying,
"Don't you cry,
I'll be back again some day."

Thumpety thump thump,
Thumpety thump thump,
Look at Frosty go.

Thumpety thump thump,
Thumpety thump thump,
Over the hills of snow.

(Music and lyrics by Steve Rollins and Steve Nelson, 1950. A more innocent time.)

Copyright 2009 Randy Hunt

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