July 25, 2014 at 9:41 AM ET
The scenes might have been lifted from a horror movie: For nearly two weeks, homeowners in a California community opened their doors to find a porcelain doll resembling their daughter left on their front porch.
It happened to at least eight families in San Clemente, beginning July 16.
"A friend of mine found one of these china dolls. Her daughter has brown hair, tan skin, and the doll literally had olive skin and brown hair,” said resident Mary Robin Baziak.
One frightened mother who spoke to NBC without showing her face or giving her name said she feared for her family’s safety. “I’m actually thinking the worst — someone creepy watching our children, and I'm actually pretty scared about it,” she said.
Authorities were stumped. “It’s obviously very unusual behavior,” said Orange County Sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Hallock. "Is it a practical joke, or what exactly is going on here?"
But Thursday night, the toy-terrorized town got a break in the case. Authorities learned that the person behind the dolls was actually a woman who attended church with many of the families who received the figurines. She was trying to clear out an old doll collection and wanted to give them away to young neighborhood girls she thought might enjoy them.
It was not clear why the woman did not leave a note or contact the families about the dolls.
Resident Jason Ewell said he’s not surprised about what happened.
"That's the way the neighborhood is. You know, people just kind of look out for each other. They do things for each other,” he said. "It's nice that people don't have to really be concerned now."