Update: Berkeley police describe green van incident as ‘suspicious’

A police cruiser was parked outside Martin Luther King. Jr. Middle School (file photo). Photo: Emilie Raguso

A Berkeley middle school student said she was approached at a bus stop Wednesday morning by a man in a green van who tried to get her into his vehicle, community members and the school district said.

The student, who attends Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, “is safe,” a parent told Berkeleyside: “She got on the bus and called the police.” The parent said she got a robo call from the principal about the incident Wednesday morning.

Berkeley police said Wednesday afternoon, however, that — upon review — there’s no indication the man tried to get the girl into his car. Berkeley Police spokesman Sgt. Andrew Frankel said the girl told BPD dispatch the man “made inappropriate gestures … and motioned her over to the vehicle.” The girl boarded an AC transit bus and called her parents and authorities. Frankel said the green van was driven by a Hispanic male adult with a beard.

“This is a suspicious circumstance,” he said. “At this point it doesn’t meet the criteria to be attempted kidnapping.” The investigation is ongoing, Frankel said.


At about 9:30 a.m., King Principal Janet Levenson put out a preliminary alert to families about what happened: “This morning one of our students reported that she was approached by a man who gestured inappropriately at her and tried to get her into his vehicle. She got a partial description of the man and the vehicle — Latino male with a rough beard and a dark colored baseball cap in a green van with a gray roof line, possibly containing 4E in the license plate. Berkeley Police are working on the case and will give us updates which I will pass on to you.”

The incident took place at Shattuck and Durant avenues at about 8:30 a.m., said Berkeley Unified School District spokesman Charles Burress. The principal put out the call and email to parents about an hour later.

Burress said another message would go out Wednesday to the entire BUSD community. Levenson is also planning to provide general safety messages to students before they go home, Burress said. Levenson told parents, in the morning message, that counselors are available if students need support.

Prior incidents also raised alarm

There was a series of possible child abduction incidents in 2015 and 2016 in Berkeley, some of which involved a green van.

In the fall of 2015, there were five child abduction attempts in Berkeley, all involving middle-school students. Three took place Sept. 18, and two others took place Oct. 18. At least one involved a green van. In other incidents, the van was black.


There was also a report in Alameda about a man in a dark green van on Sept. 18, 2015. The driver “was spotted cruising slowly around an Alameda elementary school,” the Bay Area News Group reported.

In March 2016, a young girl reported that two men in a green van followed her to Malcolm X school and tried to grab her. The van was later described by police as black.

In April 2016, a man in a parked car told two Berkeley middle schoolers, from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, he would drive them home. The vehicle in that incident was an older 4-door blue car.

Wednesday afternoon statement from BUSD

BUSD put out this message shortly before 2 p.m. It appears below in full.

Dear Community,


This morning a King Middle School student reported that she was approached by a male in a vehicle near Shattuck and Durant who made repeated inappropriate gestures and propositions. The student boarded an AC transit bus and called her parents as well as the Berkeley Police (BPD). BPD and District staff are investigating, and our student is safe.

The student described a green van with a gray roof with a partial license plate of 4E. The driver is described as a Latino male with a beard and a dark baseball cap.

We want to raise awareness, rather than alarm.

However, this incident, together with the warning issued by police yesterday about another individual, is a reminder to talk to your students about being aware of their surroundings and to report any suspicious behavior to a trusted adult immediately, just as this student did.

Donald Evans, Superintendent
Pasquale Scuderi, Associate Superintendent

This story was updated after publication to include statements from BPD and BUSD.