Police reveal details about white minivan alert

L-R, St. George Police Chief Marlon Stratton, Sgt Sam Despain and Washington County School District Superintendent Larry Bergeson at a conference concerning the day's event surrounding the white minivan, St. George, Utah, Aug. 20, 2013 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE The Saint George Police held a press conference today to clarify information and to dispel wild rumors circulating online as a result of an alert issued on Monday. Police had alerted the public to be on the lookout for a white minivan with California plates. The alert was issued after police received reports of two men asking questions about elementary schools at a local restaurant and again at Coral Cliffs Elementary School.

The minivan has since been located in Santa Monica, Calif., and the FBI and Department of Homeland Security have made contact with the owner and are investigating the incident.

SGPD Sgt. Sam Despain said in a press conference that around 2 p.m., two men entered Paula’s Restaurant in St. George and asked about the locations and addresses of various local elementary schools. The two men did not dine at the restaurant and they departed after being directed to Coral Hills Elementary nearby.

The men arrived at Coral Cliffs Elementary at some time around 2 p.m., according to one witness who asked not to be named. They pulled up directly to the school, and the passenger of the van tried to enter through several locked doors before entering through the main doorway. School staff did not give any information to the man, instead they told him he could look the information up on the school district’s website. After that, the passenger returned to the van and both men departed.

What made the incident suspicious to those involved was that one of the men was described as wearing a knit hat, a heavy flannel shirt or jacket, and black knit gloves in summer weather. Witnesses also stated that the men wore sunglasses and were possibly of Middle Eastern descent.

Witnesses contacted by St. George News stressed that race was not a factor in their decision to report the suspicious behavior to the police, as some have suggested in discussions online.

No crimes have been committed and at this point it is being investigated as a suspicious incident,” Despain said. “At this time there is no information that leads law enforcement to believe that anyone in the community, or in our schools, is in danger.”

Witnesses contacted the police and gave a description of a white minivan, as well as the license plate number, which police asked the public to look out for on Monday night.

Due to the suspicious nature of the incident, the St. George Police Department has increased police presence around area schools as a precaution.

Under the direction of the police department, the school district did not release a general statement, although it did post the BOLO alert on its website along with the following statement: “Washington County School District is taking the necessary precautions to ensure student safety. School will be conducted as usual with safety precautions in place.”

The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have also been contacted by the St. George Police. They have since received word from investigators in Southern California that the minivan has been located and the owner has been contacted, Despain said. “Homeland Security Investigations Investigators and Federal Bureau of Investigations Investigators are questioning individuals associated with the vehicle.”

St. George Police Chief Marlon Stratton said the police and school district decided early on to withhold certain details about the search for the vehicle because they did not want to create a panic among parents.

Unfortunately, as a result there has been a bit of a panic in the community,” Stratton said, referring to wild speculations made over social media about the BOLO alert and those involved.

Stratton said that he was surprised by the panic, but he also said that he understood, given previous tragedies involving schools across the nation. “Many parents are on high alert.”

Washington County School District Superintendent Larry Bergeson said that some parents did keep their children home from school Tuesday, but that for the most part, things ran normally.

Both Stratton and Bergeson thanked the witnesses at Paula’s and the Coral Cliff’s Elementary for being alert and contacting the authorities.

St. George News reporter Michael Flynn contributed to this article.

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Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, StGeorgeUtah.com Inc., 2013, all rights reserved

L-R, St. George Police Chief Marlon Stratton, Sgt Sam Despain and Washington County School District Superintendent Larry Bergeson at a conference concerning the day's event surrounding the white minivan, St. George, Utah, Aug. 20, 2013 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News
L-R, St. George Police Chief Marlon Stratton, Sgt Sam Despain and Washington County School District Superintendent Larry Bergeson at a conference concerning the day’s event surrounding the white minivan, St. George, Utah, Aug. 20, 2013 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News



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  • My Evil Twin August 20, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    OK, now was that statement so darned hard to make? Wouldn’t it have been a whole lot better to make it initially, rather than pull all this mystery mumbo jumbo that scared the heck out of parents, and makes both SGPD and the WCSD look like a bunch of amateurs?


  • Tyler August 20, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    Can we get the video of the press release please.

  • Hank August 20, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    People scared of any little thing. This was blown way out of proportion, but what can you expect from house wives with nothing better to do than make gossip. Hate to break it to you but something will happen first before you fake detectives think they solved some non existent terrorist threat. Spare me the “better safe than sorry” routine. If you feel that paranoid about something happening to your kids, home school them.

  • Chuckman August 20, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    This is what happens when you have this many white people living together

    • White person August 21, 2013 at 3:03 am

      That was racist. Too many black people neighborhoods going to be shot up. Too many Mexicans we have drugs. That comment and those are why there is so many problems.

    • Andrew August 21, 2013 at 3:50 am

      Troll much? Go back to Youtube.

    • Craig August 21, 2013 at 6:33 am

      Now THAT is funny…and accurate.

    • Molly August 21, 2013 at 8:25 am

      More like that’s what happens when people can’t play nice. Take a deep breath and stop blaming race.

  • Rodger August 21, 2013 at 12:39 am

    Hold up there Chuck… You didn’t say No Racial!

  • Stephen August 21, 2013 at 12:46 am

    They might have been of middle eastern descent. Who gives of damn what descent they are from.

  • White person August 21, 2013 at 2:59 am

    That’s a stupid justification. So should we say you get too many black people together there are going to start being neighborhoods shot up. You get to many Mexicans there’s going to be drugs. Too many middle easterns there will start being terrorist activity. Too many white people that’s the most racist comment ever.

  • deb August 21, 2013 at 6:32 am

    What a pessimistic little group of readers.. srrsly, these authorities decide that looking out for our children is more important than looking wrong and here u guys come anyways, this is getting oldr

  • Jeef August 21, 2013 at 7:41 am

    This is why bad things continue to happen, because if authorities take extra precautions on suspicious activity they’re lambasted if it turns out to be a false alarm. If they don’t check up on the activity, they’re lambasted for doing nothing if something horrible happens, or turned into racists. Get a life people and let the authorities do their job.

    • Molly August 21, 2013 at 8:27 am

      There is no way to win. Can’t please everyone. They are either overreacting or lazy, depending who you ask. I wish people could just let them do their jobs and calm down.

  • parent August 21, 2013 at 9:48 am

    just glad that the locals are looking out for suspicious activity like this. say what you want, but when you have kids, their safety is of the utmost concern. better to racially profile someone who may be completely innocent than to risk losing even one child. just sayin’.

  • Dollie Kincheloe August 22, 2013 at 11:16 am

    Still would like to know why these guys wanted school addresses and why he was dressed for winter in 100 degree weather.

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