Authorities have released an updated vehicle description and more information about five child abduction attempts in Berkeley over the past month, including two that had not previously been reported.
Berkeley Police Officer Byron White, a department spokesman, said investigators believe the most recent incident, on Sunday evening, involved a black full-size cargo van, without side or back windows. A man described as Hispanic, 20 to 30 years old, with dark hair and a mustache, tried to convince three girls to get into his van at about 6:10 p.m.
In the initial report about that incident, police said they believed the involved vehicle was an older model, dark green or blue mini-van with tinted windows. After additional interviews with witnesses and victims, authorities have updated the description, said White.
White said police have learned about another attempt that day, in the same location about 15 minutes prior, involving a middle-school-aged girl. The vehicle and suspect description were the same as reported by the trio a short time later.
The other three incidents all took place Sept. 18 as children walked to Willard Middle School, at 2425 Stuart St., between Telegraph Avenue and Regent Street, between 8 and 8:30 a.m.
One involved two girls on Telegraph near Stuart Street. In another, a girl was walking alone on Derby Street — the northern boundary of Willard — east of Telegraph. The other incident, on Stuart east of Telegraph, involved a boy.
White noted that the boy, however, had long hair and investigators believe it’s possible the man in the van mistook him for a girl.
In that case, the vehicle was described as a dark green minivan, an older model, possibly a Nissan Quest with rear tinted windows. The man was described as Hispanic, 30 to 40 years old, with dark hair and a mustache, heavyset, wearing a brown-and-tan-colored baseball hat.
In all five abduction attempts, the children were middle-school aged.
On Sunday, White said there was a block party happening that may have been a draw for the man. According to a notice released Monday morning by the school district, three girls were walking on College Avenue and Webster Street at about 6:10 p.m. when a man near a van yelled at them to get inside.
“The girls started to run away and the suspect started following them on foot,” according to BUSD. “The girls started to scream and the suspect got back in his van and drove away south on College Avenue.”
White said dispatchers are on alert for any suspect descriptions that match either vehicle, and that officers are actively working the case. Police are working with the Berkeley Unified School District and providing extra patrols in Berkeley before and after school. In addition, investigators have been canvassing local businesses to collect video surveillance footage and other information.
White said police looked into a report from Albany about a possible child abduction attempt also on Sept. 18, but do not think it was related because the description was different. There was also a report in Alameda about a man in a dark green van around 8 a.m. the same day. White said it’s unclear whether that was related to the Berkeley attempts.
“We don’t have enough information to tie them all together,” he said.
White said anyone who spots suspicious activity that may be related to the case could, from a safe distance, try to get a picture of the man and his vehicle. But he urged community members to be sure they are safe first.
He also said, with Halloween coming and nights getting dark earlier, families should exercise extra caution if they go out trick-or-treating.
“You just can’t be too careful these days,” White said. “If you’re going to have your children out, make sure they’re accompanied by a trusted adult.”
Police ask anyone with information about this incident to contact the Berkeley Police Department at 510-981-5900. Callers who wish to remain anonymous can reach Bay Area Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477. See safety tips from Kidpower related to abduction attempts.
BUSD: Another attempted child abduction in Berkeley (10.19.15)
Authorities respond to 2 incidents at Malcolm X School (09.21.15)
Berkeley schools on alert after 2 abduction attempts (09.18.15)
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[Editor’s note: This story was updated after publication due to new information released by police about a fifth child abduction attempt in Berkeley.]