Durham County

Letters: Why didn’t Durham police alert neighbors about kidnapping?

An open letter to Durham City Council members and Mayor Bell,

I am a longtime resident of Burch Avenue. As I am sure you are aware, a father and his children were kidnapped at gunpoint in the park near my house last Saturday morning.

I am aware that crimes happen and cannot always be prevented. I do not write to you regarding the occurrence of the crime itself, but rather the extremely poor response to it on the part of the Durham Police Department.

I first heard rumors about this crime the following day on my neighborhood mailing list. My wife called the DPD non-emergency number and spoke with an officer who provided incorrect information: he said the crime happened at night; it did not. He said that the DPD had apprehended the suspect; they had not. He said that the neighborhood need not be concerned; clearly, we needed to be.

I can only assume that the officer was confused (perhaps he thought this was in reference to another crime?), but based on his assurances and the lack of any proactive outreach from the DPD, we assumed we had the all clear and passed this information along to our neighbors.

It wasn't until Monday evening that I learned about what had actually happened, when I saw my small neighborhood playground as the lead crime story on the nightly news. It was clear by then that the DPD was not providing useful information to our community.

On Tuesday, the suspect struck yet again and (thankfully) for the final time. I learned about this one on the front page of Reddit.

In retrospect, it is clear to me that some or all of the subsequent crimes did not need to happen. Had my neighbors and I been promptly informed, we would have been on the lookout for any suspicious behavior. If a stranger matching his description had come knocking at our doors, you can believe we would have called the police immediately. Had the suspect’s final kidnapping victims known about his other crimes in advance, they might have been able to evade him.

I would like to understand why no media outreach was conducted after the initial kidnapping, and (more importantly) I would like to know why I and my neighbors (at the heart of his target area) only learned the facts of this incident days later.

I understand that crimes happen. I understand that law enforcement officers are reluctant to discuss ongoing investigations. But when small children are kidnapped at gunpoint from a park, and the suspect remains at large? Surely a more proactive response is warranted.

Jeremy Thornhill

Note: This letter was sent to the mayor and Durham City Council and is printed with the writer’s permission.

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