About 70 law enforcement officers scoured northeast Fresno on Tuesday night to investigate a reported kidnapping, but in the end there was no evidence the crime happened, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said.
The nearly six-hour-long search that disrupted a shopping center and kept many on edge was precipitated by reports from two witnesses, girls ages 17 and 14.
When he announced around 9 p.m. that there apparently was never a kidnapping, Dyer said it was “difficult to say” given their ages if the girls would face consequences.
“Whether or not they fabricated this, I can tell you that we looked at one of the female witnesses, we looked at her history and we have reason to believe that perhaps that the information they provided to us was less than credible,” Dyer said.
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Police initially responded around 3 p.m. to a report from a woman driving in a van on Shepherd Avenue with the two teenagers. The teens said they saw a man grab a girl between 8 and 10 years of age from behind and take her into nearby Via Montana shopping center as she flailed her arms trying to get away.
The girl, the witnesses said, was white and wearing a pink T-shirt, purple sweater and royal blue pants. She had medium length brown hair. The witnesses told police the suspect was black, with a chubby build and about 5-foot-10 and wore a black zipped hoodie.
A purple scooter – a three-wheeled skateboard type with Disney characters painted on it – was found at the scene, which at a 5:25 p.m. news conference Dyer called “suspicious.”
About 60 Fresno police officers and 15 to 20 personnel from the FBI descended on the scene at Via Montana shopping center near Shepherd and Chance avenues to investigate. Cars were stopped as they left the shopping center, and a helicopter hovered overhead.
A police dog following a scent from the scene led officers to an apartment complex east of the shopping center. But officers were unable to unearth any clues there, even after going door-to-door in the complex and interviewing residents.
More red flags and dead ends came up.
Dyer said the witnesses gave conflicting information in their statements to investigators. Dyer said at his 9 p.m. news conference that the inconsistencies – such as the direction the suspect fled with the possible victim – were normal in a high-stress situation.
Officers checked a list of students who were absent Tuesday from Clovis Unified School District – and all those students were accounted for, Dyer said.
During the search, a call came about a missing child who matched the description from the scene. But she was later accounted for, Dyer said.
The 10 registered sex offenders who live in the area all were contacted. Investigators found no evidence of any crime during those interviews, Dyer said.
Officers found video from a nearby surveillance camera that showed a woman pushing a scooter and leaving it in the area with a bag of bottles that were also found at the scene. Officers found a woman who said she threw away a scooter in a garbage bin Sunday. She was brought to the scene and identified the scooter as the one she discarded.
No Amber Alert was ever issued because there was never enough information to support that, Dyer said.