Six Forestview Middle School students — at two separate locations — were verbally approached Tuesday morning by a suspicious white male driving an older white van with dark trim and luggage racks.
Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted said around 8 a.m. two Forestview students, a male and a female, reported that they were approached by a white minivan near Mapleton Road. Exsted said the driver of the van yelled something at the two juveniles, followed them from one parking area to another, and then left the area when approached by a teacher. Exsted said the van, that was described as an early 2000 model, first approached the students near Mapleton Road, drove to the overflow parking lot between the athletic fields and then left through the south entrance.
Exsted said while investigating the incident Baxter police learned that a similar incident occurred at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday in Brainerd. This incident wasn’t reported to law enforcement, but a white male in a white van approached four Forestview students asking them if they needed a ride while they were waiting for a bus near the intersection of College Drive and Southwest Fourth Street.
Anyone observing a vehicle matching the description are asked to obtain a vehicle license number and contact law enforcement. Anyone with additional information regarding either of these incidents are asked to contact Baxter police at 454-5090 or Brainerd police at 829-2805.
Exsted said at this time Baxter and Brainerd police are investigating the two incidents as they are connected.
“In both incidents it appears all the children did the right thing by not engaging the driver of the van,” said Exsted. “They either left the area or got to a safe place.”
Exsted reminds parents and children to use common sense when approached by strangers. Exsted said parents need to tell children how to respond to stranger danger. Exsted said children need to leave the danger area if they can or if they have a cellphone to call 911 or their parents.
“And if ever possible we ask kids to get a license plate number because it is very helpful for law enforcement,” said Exsted.
Willy Severson, director of schools in the Brainerd School District, said once the incident was reported, school officials alerted all the buildings to let staff know what was going on. Severson said letters also were sent home to all the elementary and middle school students about the incidents. Jon Anderson, the Forestview principal, also addressed all the middle school students in fifth through eighth grade through the school’s TV system about the incidents.
“Our No. 1 concern has always been the safety of our kids,” said Severson. “All our buildings do stranger danger curriculum in the fall. Stranger danger is an important part of curriculum and we are faithful about covering it with our students.”