Thursday, May 7, 2009
Wichita police spent a better part of Thursday investigating what could have been a serious crime against a local child.
It turned out to be a joke nobody in law enforcement or child services found funny.
Thursday morning, 911 dispatchers received a call from a concerned citizen who discovered a disturbing post on Craigslist. An online advertisement offered a four-year-old girl to anybody who was willing to take her off the seller's hands.
"Certainly, something like this... is going to send flags way up the flag pole," said Lt. TK Bridges, who oversees Wichita's Missing and Exploited Childrens Unit.
Bridges said the investigation tied up hours of manpower.
"We had as many as seven detectives working on this," Bridges said. "We also had two forensic computer experts, who are already very busy."
Within minutes of the 911 call, authorities contacted Craigslist, who immediately yanked the ad from the web.
By mid-afternoon authorities were able to trace the source of the posting, and ruled out any criminal wrongdoing.
Bridges said the post appeared as part of a joke. A 16-year-old girl placed the ad for her 4-year-old sister, thinking it would get a few laughs. No criminal charges are expected.
But child advocates say there is nothing funny about the hoax.
"This is not okay," said Cornelia Stevens of the Kansas Children's Service League. "It's not a joke, it's not funny, and it's not something we want people to consider doing."
Elsewhere in the country, investigators have previously found children being sold on Craigslist for sexual purposes. Although that was not the case here, authorities say the potential seriousness of the situation overshadows any joke. The act of selling - or trafficking - a child is a serious crime.
Child advocates say some parents struggle to care for their children. In Wichita, a number of agencies exist to help such families.
"We have a wide range of opportunities for families," Stevens said. "We want them to know we can help them in whatever their crisis may be."
The Kansas Children's Service League operates a statewide 24-hour, toll free, anonymous helpline for families with children. Operators available day and night can answer your questions and get you the help you need. The number to call is 1-800-332-6378.
Parents can also find additional information by calling The United Way. That number is 211.