FORT MILL — A lightly dressed girl a passerby encountered at a Fort Mill park on Friday was nowhere to be found after the father of four, concerned for her welfare, left her with a woman and two boys while he went to call police, authorities say.
Police are investigating the suspicious circumstances surrounding the girls disappearance, unwilling to call it a missing persons case or possible abduction because of insufficient information, said Maj. Bryan Zachary of the Fort Mill Police Department.
Rock Hills Walter Pilot, 41, told The Herald that he had gone to the Walter Elisha Park in Fort Mill with plans to search for hidden treasures with his metal detector. While near the playground, he noticed someone drop off a woman and two young boys at the park. The driver was in a dark-colored sport utility vehicle, Pilot said.
The woman, bundled in a colorful scarf, carried a picnic basket and told the boys that if they were good, they would have a picnic, he said. After one of the boys asked Pilot if he was hunting for buried treasure, Pilot asked the woman why the boys were not in school. She told him that their parents had just moved here and they would be starting school in two weeks.
Students in York County were out of school on Friday for a teacher workday.
About five minutes later, a girl came from nowhere and began playing on the playground. Pilot reported to police that the girl was lightly dressed considering the weather conditions. He described her as a white girl, between the ages of 9 and 12. She wore brown shorts with pink flip flops and a pink sweater jacket, he said.
Pilot said he encouraged the woman with the boys to speak with the girl because he thought she might be afraid to speak with him. The woman asked the girl if she was at the park by herself. The girl said yeah, Pilot said. He asked the girl if anyone knew she was at the park.
According to Pilot, she said: I got permission to be here.
The girl looked back toward Sidney Johnson Street before mumbling to the woman that she was staying with her grandfather. She did not appear afraid and acted like she went to the park all the time.
Pilot grabbed his cell phone and called the police. He gave the woman his coat, instructing her to give it to the girl.
He went to his car and called the police.
Police met Pilot at his car and they walked back to the playground area. The girl, along with the woman, possibly in her late 30s or early 40s, and the two boys all were gone. Pilots jacket was neatly folded on top of playground equipment.
It was really, really creepy, he said.
Police agree. Authorities sent a reverse 911 call to residents, while canvassing the neighborhood for someone who might have information about the girl. They knocked on doors, Zachary said, but no one claimed to know her. Another man told police he was outside working in his yard when the incident happened, but he did not see anything, he said.
The circumstances are fairly suspicious, Zachary said. Were unable to locate the little girl and cant ascertain any other information about her.
Pilot told police about the dark-colored SUV, possibly a Dodge Journey, with New Jersey license tags. He did not know the tag numbers.
Its almost like it didnt even happen, he said. They just vanished. Its got me terrified.
Like police, Pilot said he drove around the area, hoping to find some sign of the girl, the woman and the boys. Nothing.
Police have searched nearby convenience stores, gas stations and fast food restaurants, Zachary said. They have come up empty.
Police have no probable cause to indicate shes a victim of anything, he said. At this point in time, were trying to gain any information about who the little girl was. Were concerned for her well-being.
We dont know the circumstances; we cant be certain at this point in time if we have a missing child, Zachary said.
By Friday evening, police had not found the girl or gathered more information. No local police departments received reports of missing children, Zachary said.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Fort Mill Police Department at 803-547-2022.