Social media posts recount the harrowing tale of a near-kidnapping of a 12-year-old girl at the Oshawa Centre, a large shopping complex in Ontario, Canada. But the mall said no such incident took place, nor was such a crime reported to the local police. The story repeats similar abduction rumors that have been debunked in Canada and the US.
"What is happening !! A 12 year old girl went to the public washrooms at the Oshawa Centre while her mother waited close by. After 10 minutes, mom went in to check on her," says a no longer publicly available July 19, 2022 Facebook post. "Mom frantically looked under bathroom stalls and saw two sets of shoes in one stall. Mom barged into the stall."
"A woman had drugged her daughter and was in the process of cutting her hair. Thankfully mom intervened, but the woman fled before she could be apprehended."
Screenshots of the post were shared across Facebook with warnings such as: "DISGUSTING!!!! Warning to parents this was at the oshawa centre! Keep an eye on your littles there's some sick people in this world!!!!"
Screenshot of a Facebook post taken July 20, 2022
The Facebook user who shared the story did not immediately respond to AFP's request for more details about the incident.
By July 21, the post was no longer publicly available. However, the Facebook user responded to a skeptical comment by saying: "This happened one day last week. I do not have all the details but certainly thought that this was worth sharing as knowledge of this may help another family."
But there is no evidence the story is true.
"We can confirm that we have no such incident on file," Chris Keillor, general manager of the Oshawa Centre, told AFP in a July 21 email.
George Tudos, a constable for the Durham Regional Police, said July 20 that the duty officers in the area had not reported any incidents that resemble the crime described online.
"I have nothing of that nature in my office," Tudos said. "If we did we'd put out a media release."
He recommended people who encounter these kinds of warnings online check with official sources before sharing.
"We want people to be concerned and to take steps to look into these things," Lobb said, but she warned against sharing things "haphazardly," which can lead to some "apathy in the public."
Lobb said legitimate social media posts from families or authorities seeking help locating a missing child will often include a photo and use the child's name. If a post fails to include details about where to report information about the crime, that should be a "red flag," she said.
Data indicate that non-family abductions of children in Canada are rare. High-profile cases -- like that of an Edmonton teen lured to the US state of Oregon -- call attention to the issue, but Lobb said it is "far more likely that the person has some connection to the child."