A brave 12-year-old Baldwin City boy ran for his life after a stranger followed him and attempted to force him into his van over the weekend.
"He said I needed a ride. I said, 'No thanks.' He then reached over and opened the passenger door and told me, 'I think you do,' the boy told KCTV5.
Clothes and blankets appeared to be piled up on the floor of the older model white van, which had tinted windows on the passenger door and sliding door, the boy said. The boy leaped over fences and jumped through creeks to race to a friend's house to get help.
Baldwin City police believe it is a credible report of an attempted child abduction. Police Chief Greg Neis praised the boy for his quick actions and attention to details.
"He was in a panic. He was scared to death," Michelle Burtis, the boy's mother, told KCTV5. "We want to get the word out and have him caught. We don't want another child being snatched up."
She said her son, who will turn 13 in August, is small and likely appeared to be 9 or 10 years old to the stranger.
Because the man is at large and knows what her son looks like, Burtis asked KCTV5 not to identify her son by name. She did provide a picture of her son to KCTV5 since the man already knows what her son looks like.
The attempted abduction occurred about 7:40 p.m. Friday in the 300 block of 11th Street.
Because Baldwin City is a small town with little crime, Burtis had felt safe about allowing her son to walk about by himself.
"Everyone knows each other. We never felt threatened. It's something he had done many times," she said. "Kids are always walking through our town."
The family was attending Vacation Bible School where two of the boy's sisters were performing. He got antsy and asked permission to walk from the church to a convenience store to get a soft drink. Burtis estimated it would take him about 20 minutes to walk to the store, and she agreed to let him do so.
As he was walking, the van began to follow him slowly. At one point, the van pulled over to the side and through the passenger window the man offered the boy a ride. The boy said the man's demeanor was creepy and his eyes "were not nice."
He politely declined and continued to walk. The boy said the van crept along behind him and again stopped.
After telling the boy that he needed a ride, "the man then reached over the console and opened the passenger door."
Frightened, the boy took off. Neis estimated that the boy ran about six blocks through "a jungle" and wooded areas to get to an adult friend's house.
From there, the friend called Burtis and police. Burtis and the rest of the family met with the boy and the friend at the police station.
"He was scared. He was beet red. He was crying and shaking. He said, 'Mom, you are going to be so mad at me,'" she recalled.
She assured her son that she wasn't mad and was in fact quite proud of him.
The boy wasn't able to get a license plate number because he was "too busy running," he said. But he did get a very detailed description of the man to give to police.
The man was white in his 40s or 50s. He had a bald head and full dark-colored beard that had some gray in it. The man was wearing a white T-shirt and dark pants.
"The only distinctive feature about the subject was he had yellow teeth that the victim described as gross," according to the statement from Baldwin City police.
Neis said his department is working with other agencies to see if they've received similar reports.
"I think he was credible," Neis said. "I believe it was a total stranger to him and he was scared."
As word has spread in the small community, police has received numerous tips from residents about the white van.
While Burtis wants her son to be independent, she said he will be walking with a buddy for the foreseeable future.
Neis said residents should be careful and children should do what the boy did by running in an unsafe situation.
"We don't want them to approach the vehicle. Keep a distance," the police chief said. "(The boy) did everything right."
If you have any information about the attempted abduction, call 785-594-3850 or the Douglas County TIPS Hotline at 785-843-TIPS.
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