"Epic networking fail": Book salesman mistaken for child predator
The alert from Albemarle County Schools on Thursday, May 23, struck fear into the hearts of area parents: a man driving a white Chevy wagon had reportedly approached a child who'd just gotten off the school bus and was walking up the driveway towards his Keswick area home. If the reported incident had all the hallmarks of every parent's worst nightmare, it soon became apparent that things weren't quite as they first seemed.
According to the school system's "urgent safety message," blast emailed just after 1:30pm, less than an hour before many county students would be riding the buses home, the man "told the student he wanted to get to know the families in the area and asked what other houses on the street had children." News traveled fast among parents, who shared the information on their Facebook pages, and expressed concern that a predator could be targeting county kids.
Fortunately, the fear didn't last long as the man— now identified as a college student from Texas— stopped by the police station to explain the misunderstanding.
According to a police press release sent two hours after the school's alert, the man is a student representative for Southwestern Advantage, a 150-year-old Nashville, Tennessee-based company that hires college students and sends them to cities around the country where they sell the company's educational books and software. The man and three other Southwestern Advantage representatives have proper licensing to sell their products in Albemarle County, according to the police release.
The company website reveals its reps receive one week of formal training before being sent to their sales locations, and company spokesperson Trey Campbell says that training includes a course on ethics called "operating with integrity," which includes instruction on approaching families in a "delicate" way, but nothing that explicitly addresses how to avoid being perceived as a child predator.
According to Campbell, the employee learned he'd become the subject of suspicion when "he had someone follow him and take a photo of him in his car."
The employee "asked the gentleman [who'd taken the photo] if he wanted to see the products he was selling," says Campbell. "The gentleman declined and told him to go turn himself in."
Campbell says the Albemarle County incident is not the first time a Southwestern Advantage employee has been mistaken for a child predator.
"It's happened once or twice before in South Carolina," says Campbell.
One county parent sees a bright side to the episode.
"The kid did the right thing and told his parents, and the community did the right thing and got the information out," says Hodges Myers, father of four children in the County school system.
He also sees a learning experience for a young businessman who's marketing a product aimed at children.
"You gotta tell people what you're there for, and you have to speak to the adults in the house," says Myers. "Hopefully, in this young man's career, this will be his only epic networking fail."