FBI agents and police officers swarmed a neighborhood in Snoqualmie Thursday to investigate a kidnapping.
All of it was an elaborate training exercise with 16 local law enforcement agents taking part. Residents volunteered as actors with specific roles in the mock abduction.
In a neighborhood off Snoqualmie Parkway, detectives went door to door canvassing for information. The case in hand: a 13-year-old girl has disappeared from Steller Park.
“As soon as they got their information that there was a missing child last seen in this park, then all of our role playing investigators got to work immediately, said Ayn Dietrich-Williams, spokesperson for the FBI. “Within 30 minutes they were canvassing the neighborhood immediately.”
Agents recruited residents days ago to play roles in the kidnapping scenario.
“We got these notices on our door from the FBI,” said Melissa Cudworth, who lives in the neighborhood. “And we were like, ‘This is kind of weird,’ asking for volunteers.”
Once she learned how it could benefit local law enforcement she was all in.
The FBI estimates 110 kids are abducted by strangers each year. 75 percent of the children are killed in three hours, so the role local law enforcement plays is crucial.
Cudworth was recruited to play a distracted witness who has car trouble.
“I apparently see a girl riding a bike so that might be some pertinent information,” she said.
At another home, Tom Wood plays his small role.
“If they asked, I had a home surveillance system, ok? And I was to make a copy of what was on it for them,” Wood said.
FBI agents leading the exercise have left breadcrumbs along the way. The victim's bike and helmet found in a park. A man walking his dog leads them to the next clues – a duffel bag found along a trail.
Some neighbors are even uncooperative, to give detectives the experience of dealing with those who refuse to help in an investigation.
“Take all of the components that are challenging and put it into one exercise,” said Dietrich-Williams.
Six hours later, all that footwork pays off. They rescue the girl in a house a few miles away.
It was an invaluable training day they hope to never have to apply in real life.
FBI agents who specialize in kidnappings say the goal is to have more than 75 investigators on the ground right away after a disappearance. That is why smaller police agencies have to enlist the help of neighboring departments.