A teenager says she had an ominous experience in a mall parking lot in Flint, Michigan, last week, involving a mysterious shirt she found wrapped around her windshield wiper.
Ashley Hardacre, 19, described the incident in a Facebook post that has since gone viral. When she got in her car after work at the mall Thursday night, she says, she noticed a shirt wrapped around one of her wipers.
Hardacre says she looked around and spotted two cars parked nearby. One of them was running, she said, which made her feel “uneasy.”
“I had seen posts lately about people finding things under their windshield wipers in the burton/Flint [sic] area as an attempt to get girls out of their cars and distracted,” she wrote on Facebook. “Luckily I knew better than to remove the shirt with cars around me so I drove over to a place where I was safe and quickly rolled down my window and got the shirt off.”
Hardacre told The Huffington Post on Wednesday that she’d heard about other such incidents on a Facebook page about human trafficking in her area. HuffPost reached out to the Facebook page in question, but did not immediately receive a response.
There doesn’t appear to be any actual evidence that the shirt was placed on Hardacre’s car with ill intent. But she says she wants her experience to serve as a warning to others.
“I posted about the incident to inform others that it can happen to anyone and that they shouldn’t fall for it,” she told CBS News. “A lot of people think it is fake or it won’t happen to them. But you can never be too safe.”
Flint Township police Detective Sgt. Brad Wangler told HuffPost that authorities are looking into the incident, but they can’t say for sure that anything nefarious took place. Surrounding counties that he’s spoken with have not recorded any similar incidents, Wangler said.
“I can’t definitively say whether kidnapping or abduction was the end goal of this,” he said. “It’s hard to draw that conclusion by a shirt being put on a car.”
I can’t definitively say whether kidnapping or abduction was the end goal of this. Flint Township police Detective Sgt. Brad Wangler
Wangler said Hardacre reported the incident to mall security on Friday, but it wasn’t until Monday that his department was made aware of it. He reviewed the mall’s security footage, but the angle of Hardacre’s car meant that he was unable to see it clearly.
“I can’t just debunk it, because is it possible? Sure. Anything’s possible,” he said. “But I can’t jump from one thing to something else without [more evidence].”
Still, he doesn’t want residents to worry.
“This is not common at all. I wasn’t even familiar with this type of alleged criminal behavior,” he said.
The idea that someone could lay a trap like this isn’t implausible, Wangler said. And human trafficking, the issue cited by Hardacre, is hardly unknown in Michigan: According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Michigan ranks seventh among U.S. states in terms of reported trafficking cases.
But other, similar reports of criminals putting objects on people’s car windshields have not stood up to scrutiny.
In 2004, stories circulated of people leaving fake money on windshields to lure people out of their vehicles, allowing the culprits to then jump behind the wheel.
The investigative website Snopes declared that claim false, having found no evidence that it ever happened. Authorities also said that’s not how most carjackers operate.
“Running around parking lots sticking flyers on windshields and then hanging around to wait for drivers to return to their vehicles involves planning and exposure atypical of most carjackers,” Snopes noted. “They’re more likely to approach occupied vehicles (particularly luxury cars with high resale value) and force the drivers out (by threatening them with weapons and/or physically pulling them out of their seats).”