Cedar Rapids police investigating several tips on white vans

Reports follow abduction attempt Tuesday

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UPDATE: Roger Johnson said he parked his white van in the parking lot of a video store next door without thinking twice.

Cedar Rapids police said they have gotten several tips, including a few about suspicious white vans, since news broke about the attempted abduction of a 5-year-old boy on Tuesday. The suspects in the case drove off in a white 1990s Chevrolet Astro van, police said.

Sgt. Cristy Hamblin said investigators had received more than 30 calls with information that could be related to the abduction attempt or the white van.

"We follow up on as many of them as we can that have substance to them," Hamblin said. "Because the time where we don't follow up, that's the van."

At least two people called police Thursday morning to report Johnson’s van, which was unattended at Family Video, 1531 32nd St. NE. The officer who responded found various tools and toolboxes in the van when she looked through the windows. She also checked the license plates in a police database.

Johnson arrived about 30 minutes later, hoping to clear up any confusion.

Johnson, 61, who lives in the house next to the video store, said he parked his van in the store lot around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday while was cleaning up his driveway and left it overnight. He said he uses the van to do handyman work in the area.

Johnson said his roommate had been watching the news and commented that he drove a van like the suspect's. He admitted it could seem suspicious that his van was parked at the business while it was closed, and agreed said police need to follow up on tips.

“It’s a screwed up world we’re living in,” Johnson said. “We don’t need these children getting hurt.”

No arrests have been made in Tuesday’s abduction attempt, which happened about 5:30 p.m. but wasn't reported until three hours later. Police said a white man in his 30s and a white woman in her 20s tried to lead the boy and his bicycle toward the van in the 7500 block of Kirkwood Boulevard SW. The suspects let go of the boy and left in the van when the boy’s father, who was on a motorcycle down the street, intervened.

Last week, Marion police said a man driving a white van offered a 14-year-old boy candy at an intersection near Linn-Mar High School. The boy took off on his bicycle, and the interaction was later reported to police, but officials said it was not an abduction attempt.

About 50 miles north in Evansdale, the FBI and local authorities continue to investigate the apparent abduction of two young girls on July 13. They questioned a man Wednesday evening who was seen in surveillance photos with a white van at a nearby gas station, but he is not considered a suspect in the girls’ disappearance.

FBI spokeswoman Sandy Breault told SourceMedia Group the attempted abduction in Cedar Rapids prompted authorities to review surveillance footage and locate the man. He cooperated and is not a suspect in the girls’ disappearance, Breault said.

Authorities said the recent events have fueled perceptions that white vans are the vehicles of choice for child predators. Police said 314 white Chevrolet Astro vans between the years of 1992 and 1997 are registered in Linn County.

At one point Thursday morning, while police were checking the van at Family Video, six white vans were going through a nearby intersection from various directions. Some were marked, and some were not.

“Work vans are generally white,” Johnson said. “There are more white vans than anything else.”

Curtis Clark, 46, of Cedar Rapids, who was keeping tabs on his 2-year-old grandson Thursday at Noelridge Park, said police have a tough challenge to inform the public without creating fear.

“It’s pretty impossible,” Clark said. “Now everyone is looking at every guy driving a white van, thinking he could do something. Everybody’s a suspect.”

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