Man Picks Up Wrong Kid, Sets Off Kidnapping Fright

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    NBCDFW.com
    Police say a 5-year-old was picked up from a Dallas elementary school in a case of mistaken identity.

    Dallas police said a case of mistaken identity led to a massive manhunt Tuesday afternoon after a man apparently took the wrong boy from Maple Lawn Elementary.

    Police said Roberto Paniagua, 40, had permission to take a boy named Edwin from school, but left with the wrong child.

    "The subsequent investigation shows that there was no kidnap offense," Lt. C.L. Williams said.

    School Mix-Up Leads to Kidnapping Scare

    [DFW] School Mix-Up Leads to Kidnapping Scare
    Police say the elementary school turned over the wrong child to a man who was picking up the son of a friend.

    Paniagua went into the school and told administrators at about 12:30 p.m. that he was picking up the child of a friend. But when he asked for the boy, the school turned over the wrong child -- 4-year-old Edwin Villarreal, police said.

    "What does seem to be at the center of this incident is some severe miscommunication," Williams said.

    Jon Dahlander, Dallas Independent School District spokesman, called the incident a "perfect storm."

    "Had there been any sort of forced deal, if the child spoke out or there didn’t seem to be a recognition there, then that would have raised some alarms for the teacher," he said.

    Edwin Villarreal's parents had told him someone else was going to pick him up from school, while someone had asked Paniagua to pick up a child named Edwin.

    "Neither one knew who was being picked up or who was going to be doing the picking up, so when this individual came to pick up the child and he said the child’s name, the child lit up and said, 'Well this is the person that is supposed to take me home,'" Dahlander said. "This happened on the second day of school, so the relationships between staff and and parents are not really firmly established."

    Dahlander said that the mix-up would not have happened later in the school year, such as in the second week or even fourth day of school.

    "In some cases, parents are still learning the names of the students let alone the names of the parents," he said. "That’s how something like this can happen."

    Edwin Villarreal's mother came to the school in search of her son after Edwin's babysitter went to pick him up, but the child wasn't there.

    Neither police nor the school district have said what happened to the child Paniagua was supposed to pick up. Kindergarten at Maple Lawn lets out at noon.

    Dallas police were poised to issue an Amber Alert when Edwin Villarreal was found at a house a few blocks away from the school at about 3 p.m.

    The man who picked up Edwin was reported to have left the school in a purple van. At about 2:30 p.m., police officers could be seen casually talking to a man in front of a house in the 5600 block of Mesa Circle where a purple van was parked.

    Police later handcuffed the man and took him and a woman into custody for questioning.

    The boy was transported to Children's Medical Center in Dallas by ambulance as a precautionary measure. The child exited the ambulance and walked into the hospital with paramedics.

    "There was absolutely no evidence that any harm came to him at all," Williams said.

    Dallas police said the child was back with his family Tuesday night.

    Maple Lawn Elementary is located at 3120 Inwood Road, between Lemmon and Maple avenues. Dallas police said a teacher at the school made a error in judgment by not checking the man's credentials before allowing him to take the child but the incident shouldn't reflect poorly on the entire school district.

    "We're convinced this was an isolated incident and do not believe it is symptomatic of any problems deep within DISD, just an error in judgment," Williams said.

    DISD spokeswoman Sandra Guerrero said Tuesday that the district will do whatever is necessary to prevent similar mix-ups.

    "There's a record for every student in every student's file that tells us which parent, which guardian or who is authorized to pick up every child," she said. "Teachers are just learning becoming familiar with the parents. We will be working on changing the procedures."

    From now on, Maple Lawn students will have to be picked up from their individual classrooms, where a teacher will have to make sure the adult is authorized to take the child.

    Paniagua was arrested and booked Tuesday night on an unrelated, misdemeanor warrant.

    NBC DFW's Ellen Goldberg, Susy Solis and Lindsay Wilcox contributed to this report.