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Stranger was no danger, just a concerned citizen

April 17, 2013 - It started out as a potential case of stranger danger, but it turns out it was just a nature photographer who was acting as a concerned citizen when he observed what he deemed to be some suspicious activity.

On April 11, the Oxford school district sent an e-mail to parents warning them that a man wearing a camouflage hunting jacket approached two middle school students as they were coming home from school the day before.

The incident took place along a trail that connects the Lake Villa Manufactured Home Community and the middle school parking lot.

According to the e-mail, the man showed students "a fake badge and claimed to be a police officer."

"He did not harm the students, but he did have a camera and was taking pictures," the e-mail stated.

It turns out the man is actually an officer for the 50th District Court in Pontiac who was taking some nature photos, according to Oakland County Sheriff's Det. Joe Ashley.

After the 43-year-old Oxford resident, who lives in Lake Villa, heard about the school's e-mail, he voluntarily visited the sheriff's substation to explain himself and clear up the matter.

"He was very forthcoming," Ashley said.

The man told Ashley he earns some extra income by shooting outdoor/wildlife photos and selling them.

"He saw some ducks that he's been trying to get pictures of for a while," Ashley said. "He decided to throw some camouflage on, like a netting, over his jacket and he was crawling around a small pond (between the middle school parking lot and Lake Villa), taking pictures of these ducks."

As he was doing this, he saw two middle school boys and "he thought one of them was doing drugs," Ashley said.

"He didn't specify what kind, but (judging) by how it was described, I would guess he thought they were smoking marijuana," Ashley said.

One of the boys, who ran away when the man approached them, had some aluminum foil in his hand. He reportedly brought it up to his face and ignited a cigarette lighter.

"That's commonly how some people will make their own bowls (to smoke marijuana)," Ashley explained.

The man approached the boys, showed them his badge, which was not a fake, and told them, "I'm a court officer. What are you guys doing?"

"That's when the one boy (with the aluminum foil and lighter) ran away," Ashley said.

The man told the boy who stayed behind, "Hey, I live in the (mobile home) park, too. I don't want you kids doing drugs back here. It's not right."

"He said he never touched the kids or anything like that," the detective noted.

Ashley said the man did not take any photos of the boys and offered to show his camera equipment to verify his story.

The detective noted he's still trying to determine the identify of the boy who may have been using drugs.

"I talked to the other kid and he's not giving me the name right now," Ashley said.

"But that is something we are looking into because I want everybody's stories. Whether he says 'Yes, I was smoking marijuana' or 'No, I wasn't smoking marijuana," I at least want to be thorough in everything I do. Yes, I am trying to find him."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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