Law enforcement officials brief members of the media on the continued search efforts for missing college student Mollie Tibbetts of Brooklyn, Iowa.
Des Moines Register
Since Mollie Tibbetts’ disappearance last month, Iowa law enforcement agencies have seen several Facebook posts about alleged kidnapping and stalking attempts near Iowa City go viral and prompt public concern.
Two posts from white women alleged that black men followed their vehicles, sometimes at up to “120 miles per hour,” but law enforcement said these incidents were never reported to them.
“Never was I contacted or State Patrol contacted by the person that posted these,” said Sgt. Nathan Ludwig, spokesman for Iowa State Patrol.
In one post, a woman said she was driving a medical patient from Iowa City to Mason City when a sedan with “no make or model” started following her and a man looked inside her windows on Interstate Highway 80.
“When I did look he was an African and talked on the phone while staring at us,” according to what a woman who posted the story said was a copy-and-pasted version of the original Facebook post.
The man pulled ahead and turned on his hazards. When she accelerated to 120 miles per hour, he continued to follow her for 10 miles. He left after she turned on the lights inside her vehicle. She then pulled over at a rest stop where a truck driver claimed to have seen a similar vehicle and said people flashed their hazards to show they “found a target,” the post said.
Another Facebook post alleged a similar incident. A woman said she was driving home from Iowa City on U.S. Highway 6 when two silver cars with “black guys” inside pulled over. When she passed them, she said, they started following her with their hazard lights on. Another van on the side of the road also started following her with its hazards on.
“They didn’t let up until I pulled in to west liberty so I drove like that with them on my butt with their hazards flashing while I was flooring it for over 20 minutes,” she wrote.
But Ludwig said incidents from both of the posts were not reported to Iowa State Patrol. The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office also did not have any record of the second incident.
The posts have garnered thousands of shares, with the latter one accumulating 14,000 shares in four days.
Ludwig said he’s never heard of someone try to pull people over on I-80 to kidnap or hurt them, though he doesn’t know whether the posts are false or not.
Attempts to contact both of the women were not successful.
“You know how things spread on social media,” Ludwig said. “You don’t have to be accurate when you post something.”
Ludwig said at least 15 people have messaged the Iowa State Patrol Facebook page about the viral posts. A person from out-of-state who saw one of the posts called the Iowa State Patrol and expressed concerns about whether or not it was safe to travel to Iowa, Ludwig said.
While law enforcement takes concerns seriously, Ludwig said, people should reach for 911 instead of Facebook if there is suspicious activity. He said people have been more on edge since Tibbetts disappeared from the city of Brooklyn on July 18.
The latest: Full coverage on the Mollie Tibbetts case
“Our recommendation is call 911,” Ludwig said. “Everyone has a cellphone and if you call 911, you’re giving your location. It’s routed to the nearest dispatcher.”
When it comes to kidnapping and human trafficking, it’s extremely rare for perpetrators to randomly abduct women, said Terry Forliti, executive director for Breaking Free, a nonprofit organization in St. Paul, Minnesota, that works to support people who are trafficked.
Victims of these crimes are typically already in vulnerable situations and may be homeless, runaways or addicted to drugs or have mental health issues.
Perpetrators groom these women and coerce them into prostitution, often by giving them drugs, shelter and money, Forliti said.
“There’s misconceptions that they throw people in cars and take them,” said Forliti.
“That’s not the way it works.”
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