Shopping center

Police are investigating after a potential kidnapping situation unfolded at the RiverGate Shopping Center

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) — A South Carolina mother is worried about strangers after a scary situation at a popular mall.

She says she took her 3-year-old son inside a store when strangers approached her and her son. The mother, Jillian Culp, posted a long message on Facebook to discuss the situation.

It all happened last Friday at the Steele Creek Home Goods store at the RiverGate Mall 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 help from the mother. Culp says the woman then insisted that she use both hands to pull items off a shelf. This mother says that before she knew it, her back was turned to her child and a man put a blanket on her cart, trying to grab something.

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

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“We have people working together, working together to commit all kinds of crimes,” says Lt. Stephen Fischbach. “So at this time we don’t know if the suspects were targeting the child or the wallet.”

Police say this mother did not let this fear weaken her and tell everyone that people need to stay safe by being aware of what is happening.

Lt. Stephen Fischbach said police are still investigating and looking for the suspects to find out. He credits the mother’s quick thinking for why they need more answers. Although police are unsure exactly what was going to be taken, a police report has been filed for kidnapping.

“Because she was aware of it and acted on it, we may never know where this case was really going to go,” Fischbach says.

Policing and security practice expert Stan Kephart says everyone needs to be equally vigilant about these complex crimes.

“I’m suspicious of people who ask me to help them get out of my cart, leave my child or my purse and part with it. From any distance,” says Stan Kephart, policing expert and safety with 40 years of experience.

Kephart says there are three levels of security in department stores like this. The first would be employees and hired security guards. The following are plainclothes agents. These officers are usually hired by the store or complex where the store is located to patrol parking lots. These officers may also sometimes be posted inside stores to ensure that no crime is committed. The final level, he says, are duty officers. Although they are usually not at the store until the crime is committed and reported, these officers, he says, have the most authority to arrest suspected criminals.

Kephart says that when it comes to store security, employees and even hired security guards don’t have much power to intervene. Employees should be trained, however, and you should always have safety expectations of them.

“Could and should you expect store staff to contact the police immediately, notice what is happening and call the police? Yes, that’s a reasonable expectation,” he explains.

If anyone finds themselves in this situation, Kephart says there is a good way out.

“Shout for help. This is the first thing this woman should do to bring attention to this circumstance,” he says.

While he doesn’t necessarily recommend it to everyone, Kephart says people can still fight back. However, this can sometimes be dangerous because no one knows what the suspect’s intentions are.

If you know any of the people we showed you in these surveillance photos, you are asked to call CMPD or Crime Stoppers. This number is (704) 334-1600.

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