'Abduction' call apparently a prank
HAYES CENTER, Nebraska -- A young girl's voice in phone calls to 911, claiming in one she was "being taken" and screaming in another, sent three counties' sheriff's officers into search mode, FBI agents to the Palisade area and the Nebraska State Patrol's airplane into the skies over a three-county area of Southwest Nebraska Thursday.
Hayes County Sheriff Tom Dow said this morning that an anonymous phone call late Thursday afternoon tipped officers off to a prank, after hours of investigating what they feared was an abduction.
Dow said the first phone call to 911 Thursday morning was the voice of a young girl, possible grade-school age, who said she was "being taken," she was in a car and they were leaving now. Then the caller hung up, Dow said.
A dispatcher couldn't return the phone call, but officers determined that the phone call was made from an area one mile east and 3/4 of a mile south of Hamlet. Another set of phone calls, one in which the young girl was screaming, came from an area closer to Palisade, Dow said.
Hitchcock, Hayes and Chase county sheriff's officers, Nebraska State Patrol troopers and the Patrol's airplane and FBI agents from North Platte became involved in the search and the wait for more phone calls.
Dow said Viaero Wireless told officers that the cell phone being used was an old phone, that was not active and could therefore be used to call only 911. Viaero could track the call to within a one-mile radius, he said.
Late in the afternoon, Dow said, another call was made to 911 and this time, "a bunch of girls were laughing."
An anonymous call then alerted officials to the prank, Dow said.
Dow said law enforcement officers know who the girl(s) are. Officers were meeting this morning to continue their investigation.
Wauneta-Palisade Superintendent Nelson Dahl said that law enforcement officers contacted school officials in the Palisade elementary building Thursday morning to determine that all children were accounted for. Dahl said he later contacted the Hitchcock County sheriff's office about what seemed like an unusual number of law enforcement vehicles in Palisade. "The dispatcher was extremely kind, and very professional," Dahl said, and indicated to him that a number of sheriff's officers, the State Patrol and the FBI were treating an incident as "a possible abduction."
Dahl said he became immediately protective of the children in the Palisade school and, after a conversation with school board president Jon Anderjaska, decided it would be wise to lower the "crash bars" and lock the school front doors so that people could exit, but had to knock to be allowed in. "It wasn't quite as dramatic as the (lock-down) terminology implies," Dahl said.
Teachers were alerted, and classes continued as usual to the end of the school day, Dahl said, although recess was in the gym rather than outside. An automatic alert to Palisade parents encouraged them to pick their children up after the school, and children were asked to remain inside when they got home, Dahl said. Wauneta children were escorted to the busses that return to Wauneta, he said.
"It is better to be safe than sorry. Our actions yesterday were precautionary. They were the prudent thing to do," Dahl said. "The safety of the children was paramount."
Dahl said he couldn't say enough about the assistance and cooperation the school received from law enforcement officers, especially the dispatcher at the Hitchcock County sheriff's office in Trenton.