The surveillance video from a Target store in Midlothian appears to show a disturbing scene: A teenage girl approaches an SUV that has slowed to a stop outside the store and, after a conversation with someone inside, walks to the rear of the vehicle, where she suddenly is grabbed by one of the passengers and placed into the trunk area.
The “abductor” then closes the hatch, gets back inside and the vehicle drives off as shoppers continue to enter and exit the store.
The incident, which unfolded at 8:55 p.m. Friday outside the Target store in Westchester Commons in Chesterfield County, seemed so real that police distributed the video to news outlets at 12:56 a.m. Saturday, fearing an abduction had occurred.
But less than 12 hours later, police announced they had located the persons involved and determined that no one had been taken against their will. The incident was a “misunderstanding,” police said.
So what really happened, and were any lessons learned?
As it turned out, the incident stemmed from a vehicle overloaded with six teens all under the age of 18. The Mazda CX5 in which they were riding has only five seats with a hatchback.
Police said the six juveniles went to Target together in the SUV. But because there weren’t enough seats, one of juvenile males rode to the store in the vehicle’s trunk area.
When the group was leaving the store, one of the teen girls stayed behind momentarily. When she eventually exited the store, the SUV pulled up for her to get inside, police said. The video shows her walking to the passenger side of the car, where she appears to be talking with someone inside.
“She was told she would have to ride in the ‘trunk’, “ said police spokeswoman Elizabeth Caroon. “At that point, one of the juvenile males got out of the vehicle and lifted the juvenile female into the trunk. The group then left in the vehicle.”
Police said their investigation concluded there was no intent by the teens to simulate an abduction — unlike what occurred three years ago outside the Walmart store in Midlothian.
In that May 2018 incident, a young woman and four young men staged a phony abduction for the purposes of posting a video of their escapades on social media. Participants in the hoax came forward after police released a video of the incident. They received a stern warning from authorities, but no charges were filed.
“We think it is important for people to see what this incident looked like to police and those who witnessed it,” Chesterfield police Chief Jeffrey Katz said a the time.
In last Friday’s incident outside Target, a customer at the store witnessed what occurred and called police, prompting authorities to review the surveillance footage.
Chesterfield police cited several takeaways from the incident. First and foremost: A vehicle shouldn’t be driven with more people than a vehicle can safely seat. There also are laws that limit the number of passengers that juvenile drivers can have in their vehicle.
Drivers under the age of 18 are allowed to carry only one passenger under age 21, unless accompanied by a licensed parent, or another adult acting in place of a parent, in the front passenger seat. However, after drivers have held their licenses for one year, they are allowed to carry up to three passengers under age 21 under certain situations. Those include an emergency, travel to and from a school-sponsored activity, and when a licensed driver 21 or older is in the front passenger seat.
“Finally, stop and think about how your behavior could be perceived by others who witness your actions,” Caroon said. “We have a caring community, and our community members are likely to call police for help if they see what looks like a potential crime.”