WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) You may have seen several Facebook posts about a woman in Wichita pretending to be deaf. The posts say she's trying to steal your money, or even abduct your kids.
Courtesy Christina Murphy
Wichita police held a news conference Friday afternoon to address those posts, saying there's no evidence of any attempted abductions, though they did arrest the woman and her husband for trespassing.
Three Facebook posts Thursday about a falsely deaf panhandler, have collectively been shared more than 8,000 times as of Friday evening.
Wichita police say the way the panhandler and her husband behaved was "unusual" but say there's no evidence of any plans to kidnap anyone.
Imalea Swank, 22, called police after the woman approached her and her friend, while the woman's husband followed slowly in a white SUV.
"She came up to me with her little sign that says 'I'm deaf' on it," Swank said. "I just wanted to take precautions because it was on Facebook that they were kidnappers," she said.
When Swank saw the panhandler - who Wichita Police confirm is not deaf - and the woman's husband approach her, she started screaming.
"That they were trying to kidnap me - that's what I did think at first because of all the posts on Facebook," Swank said. She said her mom had tagged her in a post earlier that day, warning her of the falsely deaf panhandler.
Austin Sechler of McPherson happened to be in the same parking lot. He says the panhandler also knocked on his car window, but he ushered her away. Shortly after, he heard Swank and her friend.
"When I heard the girls screaming, and I heard about the post on Facebook, that was my initial thought. With human trafficking, that she could've abducted her and grabbed her," Sechler said.
Swank says in the post her mom shared, someone wrote about an incident with the same couple at the west Wichita Walmart. Hundreds of people responded.
Part of the post says, "Beware, these people are trying to distract you and take your kids and or purse."
Wichita police say in the Walmart incident, the female panhandler did ask a shopper about her children, but emphasizes there's no evidence she tried to kidnap anyone in either case.
"No abduction, no attempted abduction, I do think it's unusual for a random person to ask about someone's children but there's no abduction," said Paul Cruz, a public information officer for the Wichita Police Department.
Swank does admit Facebook can blow things out of proportion.
"Facebook does do that a lot, that's why I freaked out. Because Facebook took it way out of hand you know?" she said.
Police say the panhandler's husband was also arrested on charges of theft because the license plate on the SUV he was driving was stolen.
Wichita police say social media can help spread very important information, but also rumors, blowing something out of proportion - which is what happened in this case.
Robin Knox said she saw the post shared by a friend and immediately knew something was fishy.
"Just a random person sharing something isn't always going to be true," said Knox. "You just have to be careful cause it will ensue panic and fear in people."
Update (Friday, 3:20 p.m.): The Wichita Police Department reiterated during a media briefing Friday afternoon that no abduction or attempted abduction occurred in the parking lot of Towne East Square.
Police say on Thursday, a 22-year-old recognized a 37-year-old woman from a Facebook post she had seen earlier in the day.
The woman was holding a sign that said she was deaf and needed money. She was being followed by her 37-year-old husband in a white SUV.
When the older woman approached the younger woman, she called 911.
Several people attempted to detain the older woman until officers arrived.
Police say the older was panhandling. Officers arrested her for trespassing because they say she had previously been banned from the mall property.
Her husband was also arrested for trespassing and stolen property. Police say the tag on the SUV was stolen.
Regarding the Facebook post the 22-year-old woman saw, Officer Paul Cruz says on August 3, a 34-year-old woman said she had been approached by the same 37-year-old at the Walmart located near 21st and Maize Road. The woman reported the incident to police after she left Walmart.
Cruz says no one has reported any abductions or attempted abductions in the Wichita area.
He says the public should use reliable sources to get their information, not just Facebook.
He also asks that anyone who sees something suspicious contact police.
Wichita Police are addressing a viral Facebook post and say there was no evidence of an abduction.
The post said there was a woman outside of Von Maur at Towne East who pretended to be deaf. The post goes on to say the woman "tried to kidnap a girl" and "tried to kidnap a girl".
The post included pictures of a white SUV surrounded by police. The post made by the woman who called 911 has been shared over a thousand times. Another post that was made by the couple who ran to the woman's aid has been shared over 5,000 times.
Eyewitness News spoke to the woman who called 911. She said she felt threatened because the woman who claimed to be deaf was being followed by a man, and she thought the two might be trying to abduct her.
Wichita police responded to the incident and say there was no evidence of an abduction. They say no children were involved in the incident.
Eyewitness News has confirmed through the booking sheets that a woman was arrested for criminal trespassing in relation to the incident.
Wichita police are expected to release more details on the incident later today.
Look for updates on the KWCH app, on air, and online.