Editor's Note:The child pictured on the flier is this story is not (and was not) actually missing. The WIS Investigates team created the posters as part of a social experiment on "Protecting Our Children."
Six-year-old Brody used to be Judi Gatson's next door neighbor. His mom agreed to let him help us with a social experiment.
So we put Brody's picture on a missing flier with his height and weight andgeneral description, then posted the fliers around a local playground. A short time later, we sent Brody out to play.
With our cameras rolling and Columbia Police officers overseeing our experiment, we observed different reactions.
Some people nearby never acknowledged the fliers even after Brody put one back up himself.
Others took a good look, but did not notice the supposedly missing boy playing right next to them.
Helen and Hugh Welch were out playing with their 18-month-old, Joshua, when Judi asked them if they noticed the fliers on the playground.
"I did of a little boy, I think his name is Brody?" she said.
"I noticed quite a few out there," said Hugh. "Especially now that we have a child, it's something you keep an eye out for. You know you don't want to think of any parent in that situation."
When asked if they also noticed that Brody was playing on the playground with them, Helen said, "I did not notice that he was playing on the playground with us. I was more watching everything that was going on to make sure nobody came up. There so many kids on the playground, nothing happened to Joshua or anything like that."
Every parent with a little one can relate to how tough it is to keep up with a busy toddler. To Helen's credit, she did try to check her phone for an AMBER Alert. Hugh said it's a good reality check.
"You see the alerts on the roads or you get them on your phonebut that's about the extent of it sometimes, just get lost in your own world," he said.
The most observant people on the playground turned out to be the kids!
One little boy even questioned Brody. Finally, one of the adults listened to the kids and took action.
"I saw the policeman here earlier, I see fliers for a Brody," said the adult.
Surprisingly, Brody stayed in character until the very end of our experiment, making this almost too real for all of us.
"I was a little surprised that there was no information on it, last seen, that information and there was no Amber alert that I noticed," said an adult.
"So I started going on my phone, trying to find out more informationand there was nothing," said the adult. "I was like who is this kid, I've never seen this kidand there was a little boy that was wearing withbut that didn't fit his description, but all the kids were going, 'He kinda looks like them, he kinda looks like him,' so they just brought him to me."
We asked Cindy Krietsch, a mom of four, what made her step up and try to help?
"Empathy, if that ever happened to mine," she said. "I actually tell my kids if you get lost in Disneyland who you going to? Go to another mom if she's got kids, go to her, she's going to try and help you."
Even though we knew Brody was always safe, there was something about seeing Cindy grab Brody by the hand that made all of us, even the officers, relieved.
"She did amazing," said one officer. "We were watching you, watching the kids, we saw the gathering with the papers in hand, we were so happy see a parent take the opportunity to go over and see what the kids were talking about, and when we saw you grab that hand and start walking toward us, we were like, 'Yes, great,' and I hated to do that to you, but I wanted to keep it as real as possible"
It turns out one other person tried to help.
"I think you had it up to 30 minutes and someone snapped a picture, and before you know it it was on Facebook and so forth, so it's changed the game," said an officer
Law enforcement officials say social media can be a very valuable tool, but you should always get the information about missing children from or verify it with local authorities before posting.
A recent incident in Lexington where the "report" of a child abduction blew up on the WIS Facebook page is an example of good intentions gone bad.
Someone posted, "Was WIS informed of the child abduction at Virginia Hylton Park around 4:40 p.m.? A man in his 40s/50s in a while polo shirt with a collar took a little boy around 3 years old from the playground."
The post goes on say, "Another mom was able to get the child and run him back to him mother. The man got away. There are camera's all along there. His picture needs to go up before he abducts another child. I was there with my kids, and the mother of the child is a member of my playgroup. Parents need to be aware and on the lookout for this man."
Within minutes, the WIS Facebook page was flooded with posts from people demanding more information.
One person even posted, "Your viewers want to know details about the attempted child abduction at Virginia Hylton Park. A little boy was nearly kidnapped, saved by another mom, and this isn't newsworthy? Inform and update, please!"
Well, it turns out, there was no attempted abduction. Surveillance video from the park showed the man identified as the "suspect" was actually a Good Samaritan who returned the little boy to his mother after the toddler slipped away from the playgroup.
Back at our park, Cindy is surprised to learn that during our one hour experiment, she was the first -- and only -- parent to approach.
She can't help but think what if he had really been a missing child?
"It kinda gets me angry," said Krietsch. "They're my neighbors. If they're here at this park, they're my neighbors."
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