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Shortcut causes scare at Juneau school

Posted: January 11, 2012 - 8:17pm  |  Updated: January 12, 2012 - 1:08am

A 19-year-old man taking a shortcut home through the playground at Riverbend Elementary School during school hours caused alarm and confusion on school grounds Wednesday afternoon, police say.

Riverbend school officials originally called the Juneau Police Department around 1 p.m. Wednesday to report kids said “a strange man” had tried to grab a third-grade girl on the playground, Juneau Police Department Sgt. Dave Campbell said. A police investigation later determined there was no kidnapping, abduction, attempted abduction, or any variation thereof.

Police arrived on scene within minutes, and learned all the children were accounted for. When interviewed by a JPD school resource officer, the kids said a white man in his 20s with a goatee and a long dark trench coat had walked through the back playground area of the school. The man didn’t say anything to the children, but gave them a scare when he walked about four feet away from a third-grade girl, Campbell said.

“I think that it’s mainly the fact that this guy is kind of scary looking, especially if you’re an 8- or 9-year-old girl,” Campbell said in a phone interview Wednesday around 5 p.m.

The man then jumped a fence and walked towards the Riverbend Housing Development complex near Safeway, the kids reported to police.

Based on the description of the man and his clothing, police were able to identify him within an hour and a half. A school employee guessed he was probably a high school student. JPD called Thunder Mountain High School, and a school official there had an idea of who matched the description. They ended up being right, and police confirmed the identity of the man when they went to talk to him about the incident at his residence at Riverbend.

Campbell said the teen confirmed he had taken a shortcut through the elementary school to his house, denied doing anything inappropriate, and agreed not cut through the school again, but to use the sidewalk.

The 19-year-old should not have been on school grounds during school hours, as posted signs indicated, but a crime wasn’t committed, Campbell said. The man’s name was withheld because he was not charged with a crime.

The parents of the third-grade girl were contacted and declined to pursue any charges, Campbell said.

School officials could not be reached Wednesday evening after 5 p.m.

The incident has been chalked up as a misunderstanding, although the elementary school students and school officials did exactly the right thing by calling police, Campbell said.

“It’s good that the students were able to recognize that if something was making them uncomfortable that they would report it. ... I’m happy that the kids recognize it, and they’re applying their ‘stranger danger’ classes.”

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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