A persistent and startling story about the alleged attempted abduction of a young girl from the bathroom of a local shopping mall is untrue and has circulated widely through e-mail, authorities said Wednesday.
"If it did happen, there is no evidence," Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre said. "If I was a betting man, I'd say it didn't happen."
The tall tale involves a teenage girl whose mother screamed to alert mall security when she saw the girl unresponsive and being carried out by two men from the food court bathroom at Westfield Franklin Park.
In most variations of the story, the girl's hair was disguised in some way by being shaved, dyed, or covered with a wig.
The story goes that mall security followed the men to a van where they were taking the girl, to find three other girls also drugged in the vehicle, according to various e-mails obtained by The Blade.
The Blade has been contacted several times since October about the story by readers who claim to have a reliable source but cannot trace the story to its roots.
It may have started circulating as early as Labor Day, said Chief Navarre. One of his own neighbors in West Toledo confronted him about it as the chief was walking his dog, he said.
The police had no reports of such an incident, and the chief followed up during his regular meetings with mall officials who also debunked the story.
According to a statement released by mall officials Wednesday: "A rumored kidnapping attempt at Westfield Franklin Park has come to our attention via various e-mails and Internet postings. This rumor is false. The Toledo Police Department has conducted a thorough investigation and determined that no such incident has ever been witnessed or reported at Westfield Franklin Park."
Chief Navarre said he worries that the story could be scaring away shoppers during the critical holiday shopping season.
"I don't have a vested interest in the mall, but the mall is an integral part of the city of Toledo, and I have a vested interest in Toledo as the police chief," Chief Navarre said. "People talk. Sometimes its as simple as someone overhearing a conversation and hearing the facts wrong."