The claim: A child was kidnapped at a Sam’s Club in Omaha, Nebraska
A viral hoax about a child abduction at a Walmart-owned Sam’s Club in Omaha, Nebraska, is making the rounds on social media.
The claim originated as an email chain message in the early 2000s and recently resurfaced on social media, where there has been an increase in misinformation surrounding kidnappings and human trafficking.
An April 6 Facebook post with 3,100 shares claims to tell a story from a “Sam’s Club employee” about a mother who was shopping at the store when her 4-year-old daughter went missing.
According to the story, Sam’s Club’s “Code Adam” allowed the employees at the store to conduct a search and quickly locate the child, who was purportedly found in the bathroom with her head shaved.
“This is how it works. If by some means you have been separated with your child tell the nearest employee! The employee will page a ‘Code Adam’ (missing child in the store) over the intercom system followed by a description of the child,” the text post reads. “When that page goes out all the exits are immediately guarded, and/or locked in some cases, also every employee will stop whatever they are doing no matter what it is and help look for the missing child.”
The post does not specify a date of the alleged incident or name of the Sam’s Club employee. The Facebook user did not return a request for comment.
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While Code Adam is an authentic procedure used at major retailers, the widely circulated story of a child abduction at Sam’s Club is a decades-old myth.
Story is fabricated
Local police officials have confirmed that no such child abduction at a Sam’s Club in Omaha took place, and multiple versions of the story have been shared online over the years.
Omaha police spokesman Lt. Neal Bonacci told Lead Stories the claim was false. He added that many details, such as the location and circumstances in which the child was found have been tweaked based on where the claim appeared.
The earliest version of the false narrative appeared in 2001, when internet users first began sharing the email message.
At the time, Walmart spokesperson Sharon Weber told The New York Times that the incident detailed in the email was “an urban legend,” which circulated as far away as the United Arab Emirates.
In the years following, similar versions of the story with different details went viral online. For example, the message appeared in 2016 and falsely claimed the kidnapping took place in Owensboro, Kentucky.
USA TODAY reached out to the Omaha Police Department and Sam’s Club for additional comment.
Child abductions by strangers are the rarest type of missing child cases, and viral Facebook stories on the issue are often used to generate fear and can spread harm, according to experts.
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The Polly Klass Foundation, a national nonprofit dedicated to the safety of all children, writes: “only about 100 children (a fraction of 1%) are kidnapped each year in the stereotypical stranger abductions you hear about in the news.”
Staca Shehan, vice president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s analytical services division, previously told USA TODAY: “The narrative of kids being abducted is the opposite of the typical cases we see. Abduction off the street is the outlier, not the norm.”
She added that while people who are concerned about child trafficking attempt to be helpful, they are actually “misdirecting the attention to what they think these situations look like in ways that can be very problematic.”
Code Adam program
The Sam’s Club child abduction story is fake, however, it’s true that various chain stores have an anti-kidnapping program in place called Code Adam.
The program was created in memory of 6-year-old Adam Walsh, who was abducted from a Florida Department store and murdered in 1981, according to the NCMEC.
The steps that are followed when an alert of a missing child is announced include: obtaining a detailed description of the child, reporting the information to security guards on duty, calling local police, conducting a search of the building, and reuniting the child with a parent or guardian.
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The guidelines of the program from the U.S. General Services Administration and Federal Protective Service make no mention of entrances and exits of the store being locked, as the post claims.
Our rating: False
The claim that a 4-year-old child was abducted at a Sam’s Club in Omaha is FALSE, based on our research. The Omaha Police Department confirmed the claim is an urban legend that has circulated on the internet for decades. Code Adam is a real missing-child safety program implemented by retail stores. The program’s procedures do not state that entrances and exits of the store should be closed during a missing child situation.
Our fact-check sources:
- Snopes, June 1, 1999, Child Abduction from Theme Park Thwarted by Shoes
- Lead Stories, May 7, 2021, Fact Check: Four-Year-Old Was NOT Kidnapped And Found Assaulted in Sam’s Club
- New York Times, Oct. 7, 2001, ‘Code Adam’ Soon Finds Lost Children In Big Stores
- Owensboro Living, March 23, 2016, Owensboro Police Confirm Facebook Abduction Hoax
- Polly Klaas Foundation, accessed May 12, National Child Kidnapping Facts
- USA TODAY, Aug. 11, 2020, Fact check: Mask-wearing not connected to child trafficking
- National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, accessed May 12, Code Adam
- U.S. General Services Administration, accessed May 12, Code Adam Alert
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