Tot Nearly Taken From Home Utility Imposter Flees After Mom Starts Screaming

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Giving context, adding value…that’s a good journalist. What’s going on behind the news, and why? This is one of a short series I wrote and reported to find out just that.

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Deann Lutz turned away for a minute, maybe two, so she could telephone her husband about the stranger standing on the doorstep of their West Bloomfield home. Next she knew, the stranger — who said he was a gas company worker there to check a leak — was leading her daughter Zoey, almost 2, down the driveway to his red minivan. “Zoey! Zoey! Zoey!” Lutz screamed. The man pushed the girl to the ground and sped away in his van.

Police say the incident, which occurred about 10 a.m. Monday in a subdivision near Lone Pine and Middlebelt, is curious. “I have never heard of a stranger going to a door and taking a child,” said West Bloomfield Sgt. Mark Stout. “It is extremely rare. It doesn’t seem like he showed up with abduction on his mind.” Lt. Carl Fuhs said police have no reason to believe the incident may be a bogus report. Investigators have been unable to establish a connection between the family and the stranger.

“I know she’s telling you the truth about this,” Fuhs said, adding that the stranger “probably saw it as a crime of opportunity and says to himself, ‘Well, I’ll take her for a spin.’ And he knew the mother didn’t know him, so he could sneak away.”

Police have increased patrols in the township. Consumers Energy said the stranger is not one of its employees. The utility’s records show that meter readings on Lutz’s street were done last week. Meter readings aside, home visits typically occur only at a resident’s request, Dodd said. “We had no scheduled call out there for service or a meter reading,” Dodd said.

Schools in the West Bloomfield and Bloomfield Hills districts issued alerts to parents and students. In the Bloomfield Hills district, panic locks — which allow people to leave the building but prevent anyone from entering — were placed on all school doors and recess was canceled.

“My friends know I live here in this subdivision, and when I left school today, they said, ‘Good luck, don’t be scared,’ ” said Ashley Ayar, a seventh-grader at nearby West Hills Middle School whose bus stops next to the Lutz home. “So Mom came to pick me up and is going to start to take me to school now.”

Although there have been no reported kidnappings in Oakland County this year, according to the FBI, experts say awareness is the best protection. Residents should be conscious of their surroundings and of unknown people, and should never leave a child unattended.

Although the suspect’s motives remain unclear, FBI agents say kidnappings are always premeditated. “Kidnappers sit down and plan their acts. It’s never spontaneous,” said agent Art Grovner, supervisor of the Oakland County office. “Usually, they are done for ransom or for monetary gain, maybe to settle a drug debt or it’s a child-custody case.”

Lutz said she can think of no reason someone would want to take her daughter. Lutz, 33, and daughters Zoey and 3-month-old Sophie were watching a Barney video when Lutz answered a knock at the front door. A man who appeared to be in his 40s and wore jeans and a blue canvas jacket told Lutz he was there to check the gas. Suspicious, Lutz phoned her husband, David Lutz, at his office in Detroit, leaving the door to the home open and Zoey — who will turn 2 on Dec. 10 — unsupervised. While on the phone, Lutz glanced out the dining room window and saw the man leading Zoey to his van.

“All I could think about was that he was going to take her,” said Lutz. “A ton of horrible things were flashing through my mind. Where is he going to take her? What is he going to do with her? “I am in shock and still can’t believe it happened,” Lutz said.

This article was originally published in the Detroit Free Press.

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