Update: An investigation by Dr. LeBlanc, Nelson School's principal, and Niles police confirmed that an innocent conversation got misinterpreted by young children.
A neighbor had spoken to some second and third graders near the school's playground Monday, giving a well-intentioned warning not to run into the street to retrieve a ball, said Sgt. Robert Tornabene of the Niles Police Department. The man never asked the boys their nationality or tried to lure or bother them in any way, he said.
The police officer who responded did contact the neighbor that same day, unbeknownst to the principal, he said.
Dr. LeBlanc determined that the children misunderstood the neighbor's intent to keep them safe, and their vivid imaginations and sense of adventure apparently got the stories rolling.
"In one second-grade classroom, the stories spread like wildfire. They sort of got carried away," she said. "They weren't being troublemakers, they were just caught up in the drama."
"It was a good learning lesson. We'll move on to other and better things."
Dr. Jean LeBlanc, principal of in Niles, and Dr. Tim Grivois-Shah, assistant principal, emailed parents a message Monday. Nelson School is in East Maine Elementary District 63.
The message said that two second-grade boys told a playground supervisor that a man had approached them on Nelson's playground, tried to lure them and swore at them when they refused.
Some students reported that the man struck one of the boys, while other students said the man looked as if he wanted to kidnap them.
After Dr. LeBlanc and Officer Hernandez of the Niles Police Department investigated, they concluded many parts of the story were untrue. They said they determined that the following is true:
- The man is thought to live in a house that is a neighbor of Nelson School.
- No child was ever struck nor touched by anyone.
- No child was asked to come closer to the man.
- There was a white-haired man who stood outside the Nelson fence and he asked the boys who originally reported the story about their nationality.
- After answering his question, the boys belatedly told the man they did not talk to strangers; the man replied, "Shut up."
- The man never entered Nelson property nor attempted to do so.
During the course of the afternoon, Officer Hernandez was not able to reach the man to let him know his actions could be alarming to children who have received lessons about Stranger Danger, LeBlanc wrote, but the officer plans to follow up in order to do so.
Nelson plans to deploy supervisors near the south end of the playground to reassure students and parents the kids are safe, and LeBlanc visited the second/third grade classroom where the story originated to tell them what was determined to be accurate and to reassure children.
"We will continue to keep the safety of Nelson School's students paramount in our daily actions," LeBlanc wrote. "We thank you for checking in at our office as you enter the building to get your building pass. As always, please contact Nelson at any time with questions or concerns."