It's easy to see how the whole white van thing
got to where it was - because people did exactly what they're supposed to do, and reacted the way they can be expected to act.
Let's go back to the beginning of the incident at Fancher School. A group of kids - and remember, Fancher houses fifth- and sixth-graders - runs ahead of the rest of the class after outdoor physical education.
Waiting outside the school in a white minivan is a man who is a substitute teacher for the school district, but who doesn't get assigned to Fancher very much. His wife was subbing at Fancher that day, and he's there to pick her up.
Being a responsible adult, he speaks to these apparently unsupervised kids. Nothing's wrong.
But imagine this: One of the kids goes home and tells a parent, "This creepy guy talked to us outside school today."
If you've been a parent of a sixth-grader, particularly a sixth-grade girl, you'll know that any male over 30 is, by definition, "creepy." But if you're the parent of a sixth-grade girl, and she tells you a "creepy guy" talk to her outside school, you'd be a responsible adult and make sure the school administration knew about it.
The school administration, being responsible, would then gather information about what happened. Maybe there was a threat, maybe not, but it's prudent to let police know.
There's enough weird stuff going
on that it's best to err on the side of caution.
It's also prudent to give parents a clue. Imagine the headlines if something really were amiss: SCHOOL KNEW ABOUT THREAT, DID NOTHING - subhead: SEARCH FOR MISSING GIRL CONTINUES
No, let's get the police on board and notify parents. That's prudent and responsible.
As soon as the note from school went home, the Sun began to get phone calls and message-board postings from people - good parents who wanted to be responsible - who wanted to know more about the incident. The newspaper did the responsible thing, gathered what information there was, and presented it.
The police did the responsible thing and increased patrols around Fancher.
In short order, police identified a possible suspect
, but determined there was no wrongdoing. That, too, was made public.
Finally, the actual guy in the actual white minivan comes forward and tells what happened. Now it all fits, and it's all perfectly harmless.
What strikes me is that everyone
did the responsible thing. We were looking out for one another. Every single move was aimed at keeping our kids safe.
And our kids are safe, because we look out for them.