Wichita police: No abductions linked to missionaries in silver van

Notices were posted at Friends University on Saturday after students reported a gray van with individuals trying to lure them in for “Bible study.” (Sept. 12, 2015)
Notices were posted at Friends University on Saturday after students reported a gray van with individuals trying to lure them in for “Bible study.” (Sept. 12, 2015) The Wichita Eagle

Wichita police on Monday said social media posts about men in a silver van attempting to abduct people under the guise of taking them to a Bible study are filled with misinformation.

An investigation by police from both Wichita and Wichita State University led to a 39-year-old man who is the lead missionary for the World Mission Society Church of God, a non-denominational church located at 228 S. Ellis, Lt. James Espinoza said.

The man drives a silver Honda Odyssey with the Kansas tag 250 GZH. He often has a second person with him.

“They do approach people and talk about the Bible, but they are not aggressive,” Espinoza said.

According to a news release WSU student body president Joseph Shepard posted on Facebook on Saturday, a student last week reported being approached by a gray 2000 Honda Odyssey van while on the WSU campus. Two men in black suits and a woman were in the vehicle, Shepard said.

The men attempted to lure the student inside the van for “Bible study,” and when she refused, they “started yelling derogatory terms at her,” Shepard said.

In his news release, Shepard said the people in the van have also attempted to “chase” and “trap” people who refuse their request.

The van has been seen on Wichita State’s campus several times, Shepard said. It has also been seen on the Friends University campus, he said, as students at that university have reported a similar scenario.

Friends University sent out a “Falcon Alert” text to its students on Saturday morning, saying: “A campus alert situation exists. Please check your student e-mail for a message with more information.”

Espinoza said police have found no evidence of people being kidnapped or that church members were doing anything illegal.

“People are making this decision on their own to go with these men,” he said. “There’s not been any abductions.”

A silver van referenced in Shepard’s news release are for a vehicle belonging to a family not connected to the church, Espinoza said.

“This family is not involved,” he said. The misinformation “is causing a lot of problems for some people.”

The missionary who uses a van to drive around to talk to people about the Bible told police he is unaware of other members of the congregation being aggressive, Espinoza said. He plans to speak with other members of the church about what has been reported on social media.

Residents of Wichita wrote on Facebook about being approached by female members of the Church of God congregation and being invited to Bible study at the church on Ellis. Those that agreed were allowed to follow the van back to the church or make an appointment for another day.

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @StanFinger.

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