ALGOMA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s a nationwide trend: Someone at a store sees another shopper who seems just a little off and then spreads a warning on Facebook. Authorities investigate and soon find there was nothing to be concerned about.
In the last year alone, the Kent County Sheriff’s Department has investigated three such reports. The most recent came after a woman’s Friday visit to the Meijer on 10 Mile Road near Rockford.
“I believe she felt like she was being followed,” Kent County sheriff’s Sgt. Joel Roon explained to Target 8 Tuesday.
The woman, a mom who was with her young son, snapped a photo of a man she thought was being suspicious. She posted the image on Facebook with a warning. It was shared to a Rockford community page and then took off, garnering 8,000 shares and dozens of comments applauding the woman’s vigilance and bravery. Within 24 hours, dozens of others online had reported seeing the man at other stores. That made the woman think he was a repeat offender.
“The post had made the rounds and been shared so many times that it actually landed on the news feed of the accused man’s wife,” Roon said.
That man then called authorities. It turns out he’s a fifty-something retired firefighter who was just shopping with his wife.
“It’s my understanding that he was moving through the store at a similar pace,” Roon said, but added surveillance video from the store didn’t show anything to indicate the man was doing something inappropriate.
Roon said it all stems from an effort to raise awareness about human trafficking.
“People are certainly vigilant on this topic and rightfully so — it’s a very serious topic,” he said. “Has that led to some hysterical social media posts? Yes, it absolutely has.”
The woman who posted to Facebook credited her friend Jenn Amo with increasing her awareness about human trafficking. Amo is a volunteer speaker for local antitrafficking agency Woman at Risk, International and shares her prevention campaign called “Warning Lights” at area groups. She’s raising money to do it full-time.
“I do applaud her for standing up and protecting herself,” Amo said of her friend’s Facebook post.
When told that authorities found the man in the store wasn’t up to anything iffy, Amo noted her friend had initially shared the post with only a small group.
“I think she was trying to protect a group of friends that often go to that store and the community took it from there,” Amo said.
The post has since been removed from Facebook.
Human trafficking does happen, but it’s rarely the result of being kidnapped by a stranger. Most of the time, victims are sold for labor or sex by someone they know who has been grooming them for some time.