Fake child kidnapping outrages parents, traumatizes children

By A. Pawlowski

Police in Sequim, Wash., are investigating a fake child abduction that terrified people at a playground in the small community and is drawing outrage from parents around the country.

A clip of the staged kidnapping, titled the “Child Abduction Prevention and Awareness Video,” was posted on YouTube on Tuesday by TwinzTV, a YouTube channel created by two Washington brothers who say they film pranks and stunts.

The video shows families enjoying a sunny day at the park, when a van suddenly pulls up and a masked man jumps out. He runs toward a boy sitting on a bench, grabs him and jumps back into the van. The vehicle then drives off, with frantic people running after it.

When the group later returned to the park to say the stunt was part of “kidnapping awareness,” the park goers were furious.

“This is outrageous,” one woman yelled.

“How… would you feel if that happened to you?” another exclaimed.

The filmmakers, twins Jason and Jeremy Holden, apologized on TODAY Thursday. "We didn't really think about what we were doing and we didn't really think about the kids that we were endangering," they said. 

A statement posted underneath the video includes an apology to the upset onlookers and explains the clip was part of an effort to educate parents.

“We made this video to help prevent and to show how real an abduction can be. We are sorry to who ever was at the park and had to be apart (sic) of it, we needed real reactions and didn't mean to harm anyone,” the statement says.

Marc Klaas, whose 12-year-old daughter Polly was kidnapped and murdered in 1993, wasn't buying their explanation. 

"I’m challenged to find any kind of educational value to the video whatsoever,” Klaas, who is a child safety advocate, told TODAY.

A mother who witnessed the fake kidnapping with her 7-year-old daughter at the park said her daughter is still traumatized. 

"I’ve never ran so fast in my adult life. I was absolutely bawling and I could not stop shaking. My entire body was shaking. I was so scared for that little boy and what might happen to him,” Tiffany Barnett told TODAY

“My daughter is still scared. She keeps asking, ‘what if they take me?’”

Sequim City Attorney Craig Ritchie said the people behind the video did call the police a few minutes earlier about their intentions, but there was no chance to respond.

"We’re taking a look at whether or not there is a crime," Ritchie told TODAY Moms. "You just really can’t anticipate all the ways people can be stupid."

He noted that some people in the park were terrified and called 911. The town is home to many retirees, so any elderly and frail onlookers who thought they were witnessing harm being done to a child could have suffered a heart attack, Ritchie added.

"We worry about these things because they endanger people," he said.

Jeremy and Jason Holden are listed as the creators of TwinzTV. "The boy is my nephew and yes the mom gave permission to use him in the video," Jason Holden told TODAY in an email. "The boy is 4 years old and was fully aware what was going on and what we were going to do with him, he was not harmed in anyway , he was actually smiling the whole time. "

Sequim Police Chief Bill Dickinson told the Peninsula Daily News that "at least two people" were under investigation. The chief also said these kinds of stunts and pranks are dangerous, and the twins risk getting shot from responding police or even the public who may be armed.

“Based on what they’re seeing, if they (members of the public) believe a serious crime is taking place, they would be justified,” Dickinson said.

The officer who pulled the twins over in the video did not know that their kidnapping stunt was a hoax, and told them, "Honestly, I was fully ready to kill whoever was in that front seat of that van."

Parents worried about their child being taken by a stranger should know that out of the approximately 800,000 children reported missing in the most recent national study, only 115 were the victims of kidnapping involving someone the child did not know, according to The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

In comparison, more than 6,000 kids a year are killed in car accidents, more than 1,000 drown and more than 900 die from accidental poisonings, according to the National Center for Child Death Review Policy and Practice.

How would you react if you saw such an incident happen on the playground? Let us know on the TODAY Moms Facebook page.

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