Police investigating after potential kidnapping situation unfolded in RiverGate Shopping Center

Police say this mother did not let that fear debilitate her and tell everyone, people have got to keep safe by being aware of what’s happening.
A South Carolina mom is worried about strangers after a scary situation at a popular shopping center.
Published: Aug. 10, 2022 at 6:16 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A South Carolina mom is worried about strangers after a scary situation at a popular shopping center.

She says she took her 3-year-old son inside of a store when strangers approached her and her son. The mother, Jillian Culp, put a long post on Facebook talking about the situation.

This all happened last Friday at the Steele Creek Home Goods store at the RiverGate Shopping Center in Mecklenburg County. She says she was shopping for fall items when she noticed three complete strangers walking down the aisles of the store. A woman asked for the mom’s help. Culp says that woman then insisted she uses both hands to get the items down from a shelf. That mom says before she knew it, her back was turned to her child and one man put a blanket over her cart, trying to take something.

She says she believes that the stranger was trying to kidnap her son.

Related: Burglary suspect poses as food delivery person in Gastonia, police say

“We have people working in concert, working together to commit all kinds of crimes,” says Lt. Stephen Fischbach. “So at this time we are not clear on if the suspects were targeting the child or the pocketbook.”

Police say this mother did not let that fear debilitate her and tell everyone, people have got to keep safe by being aware of what’s happening.

Lieutenant Stephen Fischbach says police are still investigating and looking for the suspects to figure that out. He credits the mom’s quick thinking for why they need more answers. Even though police are not sure exactly what was going to be taken, there was a police report filed for kidnapping.

”Because of her being aware and acting on that, we may never know where this case was really going to go,” says Fischbach.

Police and security practices expert Stan Kephart says everyone needs to have that same vigilance when it comes to these complex crimes.

”I am suspicious of people who ask me to help them leaving my cart, leaving my child or my purse and separating from it. From any distance,” says Stan Kephart, Police and Security Practices Expert with 40 years of experience.

Kephart says there are three levels of security in big stores like this. The first would be employees and hired security guards. The next are plain-clothed officers. These officers are usually hired by the store or the complex the store is located at to patrol the parking lots. These officers can also sometimes be stationed inside the stores to make sure no crimes are being committed. The last level, he says, are on-duty officers. While they are usually not at the store until the crime is committed and reported, these officers have, according to him, the most authority to arrest the suspected criminals.

Kephart says when it comes to safety in stores, employees and even hired security guards do not have that much authority to intervene. The employees should be trained though and you should still have some safety expectations for them.

”Could you and should you expect that the store personnel would contact police immediately, notice what’s going on and call police? Yes, that’s a reasonable expectation,” he explains.

If someone finds themselves in this situation though, Kephart says there is one good way to get out of it.

”Yell for help. That’s the first thing this woman should do to call attention to this circumstance,” he says.

While he does not necessarily recommend it for everyone, Kephart says people can always fight back. However, this can sometimes be dangerous because no one knows what the suspected criminal’s intentions are.

If you know any of the people we showed you in those surveillance photos, you’re asked to call CMPD or crime stoppers. That number is (704) 334-1600.

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