The man, who drove a tan four-door car, also offered the girls candy and told them he was with a local church.
The girls were approached after getting off the bus near 148th Avenue and Spring Lake Drive on Monday afternoon. Lt. Mark Bennett of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department said the children —ages 5, 7, 11 and 12 — didn't take the candy and immediately notified a trusted adult.
“The children acted very appropriately and they should be commended,” Bennett said.
Bennett said the suspect has cooperated with investigators, and no charges or arrest have been made at this time. Bennett said the man indicated he offered the children a ride home because one of them looked cold.
Investigators will continue interviewing witnesses and ensure that there was no ill intent, Bennett added.
Spring Lake Public Schools Superintendent Dennis Furton sent e-mails to parents on Tuesday, informing them about the incident and investigation. He also alerted the district’s transportation department.
Furton said the message he would like to convey to parents is how important the district takes students’ safety.
“Their children are our highest priority,” he said.
Amanda Zahrt said "livid would be an understatement" to describe what she felt when she heard about the incident. The mother of four said she’s "furious" that someone would have the nerve to approach children in the tight-knit Spring Lake community.
“Frankly, I’m disgusted,” Zahrt said.
Zahrt said she’s previously had discussions with her children about what to do if a stranger approaches them. She told them strangers will use tricks to lure children, such as offering candy or saying they know their parents.
“You absolutely do not believe them,” Zahrt said she tells her children.
During Tuesday’s half-day of school, Furton said staff in kindergarten through sixth grade had age-appropriate conversations about “stranger danger” and what to do if strangers approach them.
When Nicole Cohoon picked up her fourth-grade daughter and first-grade son from Holmes Elementary School on Tuesday, she said she drove a different way home to ensure family friends who walk from school made it home safely.
“We don't hear of these cases often at all in our small little Village of Spring Lake, but it is out there and can happen,” Cohoon said. “Our community will all pull together and look out for everyone's children and keep them safe.”
Cohoon also said she reminded her children Tuesday of what to do in the event that a stranger approaches them.
“I told them they always have to be aware of their surroundings — wherever they are, whoever they are with,” she said.
Zahrt said there should be more police patrolling before and after school. And she doesn’t plan to let her son walk home from school for at least the rest of the school year.
“There is no measure that is too small that we can take to protect the kids,” Zahrt said.