This story was first published on November 5, 2013
Circulating social media message claims a little girl went missing in an ASDA store but was later found in the store’s toilets where a “foreign man and woman” were changing her clothes and cutting her hair.
The claims in the message are untrue. No abduction attempt like the one described has been reported at any ASDA store. The “warning” is an urban legend that has circulated since at least 1999. The store named in the message varies in different incarnations of the story, as does the country the story is set in. Passing on this false abduction warning will help nobody.
Just wanted to tell all my friends in somerset something one of my students mums told me. Earlier on this week a little girl went missing in asda in bridgwater. Asda closed the store so that knowone could get in or out. The little girl was found in the toilets with a foreign man and women who were changing her clothes and cutting her hair. The little girl was 4 or 5, I believe, and blond haired. Luckily she was found safe and returned to her parents. Felt that everyone should be aware of it. X
This message, which is currently circulating rapidly via social media, describes an attempted kidnapping at an ASDA store in Bridgwater, UK. According to the message, a little blond-haired girl went missing in the store and management closed the store so that nobody could get in or out. Then, the little girl was found in the store toilets with a foreign man and woman who were changing the child’s clothes and cutting her hair, presumably with the intent to steal her away with them.
The message certainly describes a scenario likely to strike fear into the hearts of any parent or guardian. But, the claims in the message are nonsense. No such abduction attempt took place at ASDA Bridgwater or any other ASDA store.
The story is an urban legend that has circulated in various incarnations since at least 1999. In 2009, an earlier version of the message claimed that the abduction attempt took place at ASDA’s Huddersfield store. And, in the years before, variants of the same message were set in stores in Plymouth, Telford, Manchester, and other parts of the UK.
A November 2009 Huddersfield Examiner article noted:
SUPERMARKET chain Asda has quashed rumours of a child abduction at its Huddersfield store as“absolute nonsense.”
Thousands of texts have been sent to mobile phone users across the town this week claiming a three-year-old girl was snatched inside the Bradford Road store.
The text claims the store locked its doors while a search was carried out and the youngster was found minutes later in a toilet with two Romanian women.
One woman is alleged to have been shaving the girl’s head while the other dressed her in boys’ clothing.
An employee is supposed to have sent the text after seeing the incident unfold.
Today Asda confirmed the rumours were part of a nationwide hoax.
A spokeswoman said the story had been circulating for years but was completely untrue.
Moreover, for well over a decade, variants of the same tale set in various US stores have also circulated.
None of the circulated stories have ever described an actual abduction attempt.
And the tale is derived from even earlier kidnapping legends that have been passed around for decades. All of the tales follow a pattern in which a child is taken in a public place and later found just in time with sinister abductors who are attempting to disguise the child by cutting or shaving her hair and changing her clothes. In most of the stories, the child is a blond female and her supposed kidnappers are described as foreigners. In some versions, the nationality of the “kidnappers” is identified, often as Romanian.
Some may argue that such stories are useful cautionary tales that help keep parents vigilant and thereby may help keep children safe. However, in reality, these tales can be counterproductive. They raise unnecessary fear and alarm in communities, and waste the time of police and child protection organizations that must field ongoing enquiries about the supposed abductions from concerned members of the public. Such agencies must also deal with false sightings of “suspicious foreigners ” with children in shopping centres. And the messages tend to foster unfair and damaging racial stereotypes.
These bogus messages can also make it less likely that the Internet public will believe genuine abduction alerts that come their way.
If you receive a version of this old hoax, please do not share it on your networks. And please take the time to let the poster know that the claims in the message are untrue.