Columbia police said on Thursday they had no reason to believe there is a connection between two reports — circulated all over town via e-mail — of a man stalking women in a white van.
The e-mail was sent Wednesday morning and warned of a man in a white van who followed one woman last Monday and another woman on Tuesday. Contrary to the claim in the e-mail, police said they had not received any reports of people being harassed by a man in a white van, Capt. Mike Martin said.
Martin emphasized that police are not dismissing the complaint. He also said the department has had more calls in the past week with people trying to confirm the legitimacy of the e-mail than to report a sighting of a white van. He said no official complaints had been filed.
“Could it have happened? Yeah,” Martin said. “But it’s not something we want people to be paranoid about.”
The e-mail said one of the two women who were reportedly stalked called the police from IB Nuts and Fruit Too on West Broadway after store clerk told her that a white van had followed customers to the store the day before.
None of the store’s employees remember a woman coming into the store to complain about a suspicious van, the store’s co-owner Sherri Hockett said.
“It is just kind of bizarre,” Hockett said. “There has been so much attention for one little e-mail.”
The e-mail originated from a conversation between two women who’d had a similar strange encounter with a white van, Martin said.
“I think the e-mail was done with good intentions and to warn their friends,” he said.
The originators have asked police not to release their identities to the media. In an e-mail to the Missourian, one of the women said she wanted nothing to do with any inquiry into a white van episode.
The closest thing police have received to a complaint is a report from a woman on Wednesday who said she had been harassed by a man in a white van occupied by several other men, Martin said.
“He tried to sell her magazines, but no solicitors’ permits have been given, so they were doing it illegally,” Martin said.
He said magazine solicitors are common around this time of year.
“We are not sure if this report has any connection with the others,” Martin said.
Police are asking the public to report any suspicious activities involving a white van. Anyone with information should call Columbia Police at 882-7203 or CrimeStoppers at 875-TIPS.
Missourian reporter Meredith MacKenzie contributed to this report.