WILLISTON, N.D.—The Williston police said Friday, Jan. 12, that anyone who suspects they see child abuse, neglect or endangerment should call them immediately.
That message came a day after a Facebook post that seemed to show a woman with two children not dressed appropriately for the cold went viral, resulting in public outrage and a police investigation.
"The big suggestion we have is any time you suspect there is child abuse or child endangerment, please contact law enforcement immediately," Williston Police Sgt. Detective Danielle Hendricks said. "Don't wait. Let us know right away."
The incident, captured in a photo and video posted to Facebook, happened just before 8 a.m. Thursday in the parking lot of CashWise, Hendricks said, and police got a call about it at 8:25 a.m. and responded then.
The post, which has since been taken down, appeared to show a woman and two young children. One of the children, a girl, was dressed in a long-sleeve T-shirt and pants and was sitting in the seat of a grocery cart. She was not wearing a coat, hat or gloves and appeared to be barefoot. The video, which was less than 30 seconds long, showed the woman getting the other child, a boy, out of the car and putting him in the basket of the cart. He appeared to be wearing jeans and a T-shirt with the sleeves pushed up.
Officers were able to identify and speak with the woman and the children pictured Thursday morning, and the children are safe, according to Hendricks. The police are still investigating and are also working closely with Williams County Social Services.
The original post garnered hundreds of comments before being removed. News stories about the incident sparked similar levels of discussion, with some commenters claiming the police were called earlier and didn't take action.
That didn't happen, Hendricks said.
"That's not accurate at all," she said. "Once we were notified, we acted immediately."
Anyone who has a concern about a child's safety should call police quickly, so officers can intervene. Much of the online discussion centered around what commenters would have done if they were present, with some saying they would have taken action. The police don't recommend that course of action, though.
"We don't encourage that because you never know what reaction that person would have," Hendricks said.
Police officers have training and legal authority to intervene, she said.
The temperature Thursday morning in Williston was 8 degrees below zero, with a windchill in the negative 30s, according to the National Weather Service.
A wind chill warning was in effect until noon Saturday.
When temperatures and wind chills are that cold, frostbite is possible in 10 minutes or less.
Children are especially vulnerable to frostbite because they lose heat through their skin more quickly, according to kidshealth.org, a site run by a chain of pediatric hospitals.