Police are investigating a young mum’s claims that a stranger asked her two-year-old daughter to “come with me” while they were shopping in Sunderland.
Stephanie Lovie described the Bridge’s shopping centre encounter as “every parent’s worst nightmare” - and has urged parents to be extra vigilant.
In a Facebook post that was shared almost 15,000 times, the 24-year-old model claimed she thought the middle-aged mystery man was going to snatch little Darcey.
Northumbria Police do not believe the incident was an abduction attempt, but they are hunting the man over alleged inappropriate comments to the toddler.
“I just felt sick, my stomach churned and I had butterflies - I was shaking for hours afterwards,” said Stephanie, from Westoe Crown Village in South Shields.
“My body just froze up, and he walked away just laughing.”
My body just froze up.Stephanie Lovie
She took to a Facebook parents group when she got home to relay her ordeal. Within hours, tens of thousands of people had read or shared it across the country.
She’s since removed the post after the police ruled out the possibility that the incident, which happened outside Greggs, was an abduction attempt.
But with the experience leaving her shaken, she’s spoke to the Echo to warn parents to be extra cautious.
“I don’t want to scare people - I just want to make them aware of what happened to me and to be extra cautious, as it was horrible.
“Darcey is fine, she was totally oblivious and she’s not the sort of girl who would go off with a stranger.
“But all it takes is a split-second for something like this to happen.”
Anyone who can help is asked to contact police on 101 ext 69191 quoting reference 611 21/05/15.
Stranger ‘was wearing leopard print earmuffs’
Detectives are scouring CTTV footage from the shopping centre following the incident- looking for a man wearing leopard skin earmuffs.
That is what the distinctive suspect was wearing, according to Darcey’s mother Stephanie, who claimed he was also 5ft 6ins tall, dark skinned with a peaked baseball cap and had what looked like religious markings on his face.
A Northumbria Police spokesman said: “At 2.58pm on Thursday, May 21, police received a report of inappropriate comments having been made to a child while in her mothers presence at Greggs cafe, by a customer.
“There were no attempts made by this man to harm or touch the child. Officers are currently carrying out lines of enquiries to identify the man.”
Andrew Bradley, The Bridge’s Centre Director, added: “We are providing every assistance to further police inquiries”.