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Salisbury woman cautious after stranger’s odd behavior at Walmart

SALISBURY — Amanda Bowen admits she left herself vulnerable to what could have been the abduction of her 4-year-old daughter after an odd interaction with a stranger at Walmart.

On Tuesday evening, Bowen took her daughter to get her ears pierced at the Salisbury store. She left to sit in the parking lot soon after when the girl became upset.

Bowen, who also had her 6-month-old daughter in the car, was working to get them both out of the car to go back in the store after her oldest had calmed down. She heard a man behind her say, “Looks like you have your hands full today. Can I get you a cart?”

She thought he was just being polite, so she took the cart. She placed the infant, who was in a carrier, in the cart and took her daughter’s hand.

The man, whom she described as an older white man, was wearing a white T-shirt and khaki shorts. He had white-gray hair and was in his late 50s or early 60s. He was seen getting into a Mitsubishi Crossover with a Tennessee license plate.

The man continued to engage Bowen’s daughter, but never really engaged with Bowen. He asked why she was crying and what would make her happy. The mother and her children continued to walk toward the store with the man in tow.

Bowen said she went to get her daughter’s other ear pierced and then headed to the toy aisle to get the girl the toy she’d been promised for being a good sport. The man showed up on the same aisle.

“All of a sudden, he was right there out of the blue and said, ‘There you are,’ as if he was looking for her,” Bowen said.

Bowen said at that moment, she became uneasy.

The man asked if the little girl was happy now that she’d gotten her ear pierced.

He reached out his hand and said, “Let’s go get a toy. C’mon, let’s go get a toy,'” Bowen said.

The man kept talking to the girl, asking why she was so shy. Her daughter didn’t speak to the man.

Bowen said she and her husband have always taught their daughter not to speak with strangers or take anything, including candy, from strangers.

Bowen left the toy aisle with her daughter clutching the cart. She turned down another aisle and spotted an employee. Bowen told the employee what just happened. The store associate told Bowen to stand with her while someone checked to see that the man had left.

Bowen went to self-checkout, bought the toy and headed for the exit. She asked a Walmart greeter to escort her out. Once outside, she put her children in the car and drove up to a security guard who was monitoring the parking lot. She told him what had happened and said she didn’t want to call 911 but wanted to know how to reach police at a nonemergency number.

The guard stayed with her until police officers arrived. In the meantime, Bowen saw the man leave the store and took a picture of him. She followed his car out of the parking and saw him head toward Interstate 85.

Police officials said because the man did not grab the girl, no crime was committed. But they are investigating the incident and trying to ascertain why he approached her.

“A detective has been looking into the incident, and although the actions of the person are suspicious, they do not rise to the level of a criminal act and we cannot prove criminal intent,” said Sgt. Russell DeSantis.

Bowen said most of the time when she’s running errands, her children are with her. She said she tends to be aware, but realized that within a split second when she had her back turned, he could have grabbed her daughter.

“It made me more aware, even though I feel like I am very aware,” she said.

She admits she may have been naive to think someone was being nice when perhaps he had ill intentions.

She said her daughter later told her the man made her nervous.

“I was a prime target,” Bowen said.

Bowen said in the future, she will place her infant in a carrier on her body and not take a diaper bag if she’s running in a store quickly because it means her hands will be free.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact the Salisbury Police Department at 704-638-5333 or Salisbury-Rowan CrimeStoppers at 866-639-5245.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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