PORTAGE — Just moments after pulling up outside the local Walmart and being accused of attempting to meet up with a 14-year-old boy, a man in a white company pickup is shown quickly driving away.
The encounter, including the man's image and license plate, as well as an alleged social media chat from just prior, were all captured by a new YouTube channel billing itself as an NWI predator watchdog.
The group's first video had been viewed just more than 13,000 times as of Thursday morning, but it has also caught the attention of Portage police, who are investigating not only the man in the pickup truck, but also those behind an apparent vigilante effort.
"People who do that are taking a huge risk," said Portage Police Sgt. Rob Maynard. "This could have went poorly for that young man out there."
Detectives are working to get a clearer picture of what all transpired, Maynard said. This could result in criminal charges against the man accused by the channel of wrongdoing, he said, but could also have legal consequences for those posting the video.
A more appropriate response to suspected illegal activity is to report it to police, he said.
The two-minute video opens with the unidentified narrator explaining that their intention is to expose child sex offenders in the Region. The Times is not posting the video to its website because of the ongoing police investigation and public safety concerns.
"So what we're going to do is we're going to make sure the consequences are there," the voice on the video says. "If the authorities will just give them a slap on the wrist and probation, I'm going to make sure their work finds out. I'm going to make sure their family knows."
During the introduction of the video, a social media chat allegedly between the channel narrator and the man in the truck appears on the side of the video.
"I know it says 19, but I'm actually 14 turning 15," the narration reads. "Is that OK?"
"O geez that's a bit young," reads the response.
While repeatedly voicing hesitation, the responder agrees in the chat to meet after being sent a photo of the exterior of the store verifying he is not being set up.
"I'm a bit nervous we just gonna talk," is the response.
The narrator says the chat began around 1 a.m., and the meeting took place at 3:30 a.m.
A day for the alleged occurrence is not given, but there is mention that the closed store was chosen "because of the current hysteria from the virus," and snow is visible on the ground.
During the confrontation, the narrator begins yelling and cursing as the driver flees. A photo of a man is then posted at the end of the video.
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