Madison Middle School students photographed by man in car, school tells parents

December 17, 2013 at 9:48 pm | In Safety, West Seattle news | 30 Comments

Another local middle school principal has sent an alert to parents. This time, it’s a recorded message from Dr. Robert Gary, Jr., at Madison Middle School, robocalled and e-mailed this evening, saying that three Madison students reported today that a man drove up and photographed them. We won’t be able to find out more from police or school officials until tomorrow, but we’ve received the audio file from a parent and have transcribed the information with which it begins:

“Good evening, Madison parents. This is Dr. Gary, interim principal at MMS. On December 16th at 2:30 in the afternoon, three Madison students reported that a man in a four-door older model gray car rolled down his window and took pictures of them with a red camera. This incident occurred two blocks north of Madison on Stevens Street. The person is described as a white male with gray hair, age 50 to 60. The students informed their parents when they arrived home and parents contacted the police. The Seattle Police reported the incident to Madison staff yesterday at 4 o’clock pm …”

The message continues from there with safety tips, almost word-for-word what was in the Denny/Sealth letter about the Roxhill Park incident. Dr. Gary’s audio can be heard in its entirety here (MP3). We haven’t seen a written version of it, if any was sent.

P.S. It should be noted, it is not a crime to photograph someone, of any age, who is in a public place or visible from a public place, but since the school was concerned enough to alert its families, we are sharing the information here too, and will update tomorrow with anything additional we find out from police and/or Seattle Public Schools.

30 Comments

  1. it may not be illegal, but it is definitely creepy…

    Comment by JanS — 10:57 pm December 17, 2013 #

  2. There is something creepy about being photographed when you don’t want it. But I suppose the guy would say “Hey, it’s a free country.” Too bad they didn’t get a license #.

    Comment by LivesInWS — 11:10 pm December 17, 2013 #

  3. Principal Dr. Gary made an announcement today over the school intercom informing the students of the incident as well as sending home a written copy today to parents of the robo call from this evening.

    Comment by Rose — 11:44 pm December 17, 2013 #

  4. Thanks WSB, for pointing out that it is perfectly legal to photograph anything that you can see in public. Sometimes things are not quite what they seem.
    .
    Earlier this year,I had a rather unpleasant encounter with a teacher in front of Gatewood Elementary while taking a picture of cheery yellow school buses on a rainy Seattle afternoon.
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    Folks need to get over their photo phobias!
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    Here is a link to my rather innocent picture:
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    http://www.blipfoto.com/entry/2701473
    .

    Comment by kevin — 1:02 am December 18, 2013 #

  5. Kevin, there’s quite a difference between taking a picture of a school bus on school grounds and rolling up to a small group of girls in a car off campus and taking their picture without their consent. Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right. It was disturbing to them. Do you photograph minors without their parents’ consent?

    Comment by newnative — 5:19 am December 18, 2013 #

  6. @kevin-
    Sorry you had an unpleasant encounter. Please remember that although it is legal to take pics in public places, some people just don’t *want* to be photographed.

    .
    The issue with taking pics of school busses may be about non-custodial parents who are trying to make plans so they can snatch the kids.

    .

    Then there are the issues with (even innocent) pics that are made public: stalkers…. Always scanning public pics from the area of their victim. Creepy, and makes the vic more of a victim.
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    Just another point of view or two.

    Comment by ocean — 7:04 am December 18, 2013 #

  7. I look forward to meeting this photographer for a spirited in-person discussion about his rights, and mine.

    Comment by Admiral California — 7:08 am December 18, 2013 #

  8. A man that age should understand this is not a good thing to do – assuming his purpose was innocent.

    Comment by WestofJunction — 7:20 am December 18, 2013 #

  9. @newnative-
    The photo of the school busses was not on school grounds as it was out on the street. Last time I checked that is public right away.

    Comment by S — 8:28 am December 18, 2013 #

  10. With all this nonsense going on, why doesn’t someone smart get some cc video cameras and post them high on poles on the perimeter of the school? I mean you can get eight little cameras and the main brain of the system relatively cheap. Seems pretty easy to do and you can catch these dirtbags in the act. What do I know…

    Comment by craig — 8:30 am December 18, 2013 #

  11. We did get a robo call last night late 6:03 P.M. I would have rather known about it before my student was out of school. We could have had a chance to discuss with our child before they took their walk home, or we could have chosen to pick them up till we discussed the safety precautions. Why does it take so long for Seattle Schools to notify of an incident? Last year I found out about a lock down after I pick my student up supposedly during the lock down my student was allowed to stand out front of Madison school while the school was still in lock down and police had active search in the neighborhood for a man with gun. (estate sale hold up). I did call safety personnel at the district they referred me back to the Madison principal (last years) who did not respond to my questions.

    Comment by Madison Parent — 8:39 am December 18, 2013 #

  12. It takes Seattle Schools so long to respond because Seattle in general is extremely complacent about crime and public safety.

    Comment by Admiral California — 9:13 am December 18, 2013 #

  13. That is because Seattle care more about “Social Justice” than victims rights.

    Comment by WestofJunction — 10:18 am December 18, 2013 #

  14. If a school bus is parked in front of a school and there is a clearly visible teacher…why not simply ask if it is ok to take the photo and explain the photographic intent? Problem of a confrontation solved, irregardless of the pubic space.

    Comment by homesweethome — 10:47 am December 18, 2013 #

  15. @homesweethome – Because the teacher is not the arbiter that gets to decide if it’s OK to take a picture or not, and has no right to confront someone about it.

    Comment by Tim — 11:12 am December 18, 2013 #

  16. @Tim a teacher would have the right to confront some random person hanging out near a school about anything. Free speech. “What are you doing with the camera, Mister?” Nothing wrong with that.

    I quit taking my kid to the kiddie pools in west seattle because of the creeper guys hanging out there with no kids of their own taking pics of the toddlers with their smart phones.

    Comment by Gabby — 11:26 am December 18, 2013 #

  17. @Tim, thank you for your kind words.
    .
    I really DON’T want to start a flame war here, but photography is a PROTECTED form of free speech, protected by the 1st and 4th amendments to the Constitution.
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    The photographer is under NO obligation to state the nature of their photography. I have been down this road many times with both public and private agencies.
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    Perhaps this article written by a well known Portland attorney will help clear the air.
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    http://www.krages.com/phoright.htm
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    I have very strong feelings about OUR rights to photograph in public, as government continues to erode our rights on a daily basis. If you don’t like being photographed – then stay home.
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    If anyone would like to debate this issue offline, my email address can be easily found in my WSB profile. I would be happy to speak with you. Thanks.
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    On a brighter note, please take a look at the work of Vivian Maier, a Chicago nanny who amassed an amazing collection of 250K+ images of life in Chicago.
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    http://www.vivianmaier.com/
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    The bottom line… what we are looking at is slices of life. History in the making.
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    What if the WSB had to “ask” for permission every time they covered a news story?
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    It could become a pretty dull blog.
    .

    Comment by Kevin — 12:51 pm December 18, 2013 #

  18. People need to relax. The hyperbole is nauseating. Unless this person was stalking these girls or making direct, inappropriate contact with them, he was doing nothing wrong. Slippery slope people – you can put your pitchforks away. I agree fully with Kevin.

    Comment by DookieTee — 1:44 pm December 18, 2013 #

  19. Innocent or not, this story is about what happened to the children, not what happened to Kevin. Let’s stay focused so we can be aware of what’s happening with our kids.

    Comment by Off Topic — 2:24 pm December 18, 2013 #

  20. On one of the hottest days this last summer, I was taking a panorama with my iPhone of the view from the front door of my apartment (overlooking the Alaska Junction), and the neighbor across the street came over, got in my face and accused me of being a pervert. Then he called the police, and I had to convince them that I was not using my iPhone to look into nearby apartment windows. Finally, after scaring me to death, one of the officers admitted that from my door, I wouldn’t have seen much (he had an iPhone too), even if I were photographing nearby apartments.

    I had only lived here 6 months, my apartment was 90+ degrees, and I was taking a photo of the view to brag to my friends about what a cool place I lived — especially with a view of the Easy Street sign from my front door.

    Total bummer, but I forgive him. Love this town, but Kevin is right.

    Comment by Liberty — 2:37 pm December 18, 2013 #

  21. It’s all context. These girls felt violated because a stranger in a car approached them and took their picture without their permission. Not from a distance, not as a landscape, nor a news story. This is about middle school girls, not scenery or vehicles.
    Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right.

    Comment by newnative — 2:54 pm December 18, 2013 #

  22. “With all this nonsense going on, why doesn’t someone smart get some cc video cameras and post them high on poles on the perimeter of the school? I mean you can get eight little cameras and the main brain of the system relatively cheap. Seems pretty easy to do and you can catch these dirtbags in the act.”

    Is the irony intentional

    Comment by Jim — 3:53 pm December 18, 2013 #

  23. If I see you photographing children at or next to my school when children are present, I will legally take a photo of you, and post it here.

    Comment by teacher — 4:10 pm December 18, 2013 #

  24. My WSHS student just told me about another incident that happened recently across the street from the high school. A teenager girl was attacked by a man who apparently jumped out of the bushes and tried to grab her. Thankfully she got away but students were told by school officials that they would be sending out an email making parents aware of the incident. I have not received one as of yet and according to a number of students, no parents have. This is outrageous to me especially considering all of the reports of the creeps that have been around in our area lately. It is up to us parents to teach our children to be cautious and aware but I feel the schools have a responsibility to inform us whenever incidents like this happen.

    Comment by Concerned Parent — 5:24 pm December 18, 2013 #

  25. So taking pictures of minors without permission is “free speech”, but asking that photographer what they’re doing is creeping fascism? Get over yourselves. Sorry, Kevin, you’re no Vivian Maier.

    Comment by Admiral California — 6:46 pm December 18, 2013 #

  26. Yeah, I’m sure he seemed creepy. Good students for being alert and not walking alone.

    I wonder, though, how many of the people offended or worried about this guy keep facebook pages, or family blogs, or twitter or instagram, or any other kind of digital ‘brag book’ of pictures out there for their digital ‘friends’ to copy and paste as they please, and so on, and so on…

    Just curious..

    Comment by Betsy — 6:54 pm December 18, 2013 #

  27. Concerned Parent – that incident was covered extensively last week – http://westseattleblog.com/2013/12/west-seattle-crime-watch-search-near-wshs – as noted in that story, less than an hour after we reported it, we received a copy of the e-mail that was sent to parents by the principal. Some citywide news organizations covered it too (we saw a couple TV trucks outside WSHS that evening). If you didn’t get it – you might check to make sure the school has the correct e-mail address for you (as parent of a student at another school, I know how that can go) – Tracy

    Comment by WSB — 8:24 pm December 18, 2013 #

  28. That bothers me too, I do not post photos of my or any child online. They cannot give consent.

    Comment by newnative — 8:29 pm December 18, 2013 #

  29. Sooner or later someone will photograph the “photographer” (at the center of this debate). Then we can publish his photo, car and license in a website and or blog.
    I agree that he did nothing illegal, but perhaps “publicly shaming” him will cause him to change his behavior or make him come forth to state his purpose.
    Maybe he’s some wacko research psychologist trying to see how we’ll all react? (My apologies in advance to other psychologists)
    Got to keep cool heads here…

    Comment by west coaster — 10:36 pm December 18, 2013 #

  30. We are all hypocrites advocating for and against legal rights as they suit us time and place.

    How about we all practice common courtesy and focus on finding common ground.

    Good grief we humans are a pathetic bunch with all the finger pointing and chest thumping.

    Comment by Jeffrey — 11:01 pm December 18, 2013 #

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