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Police: Cause not found for harsher charges in Gentry case

UPDATE 9:30 p.m.: Columbia police said Wednesday night that officers finished their investigation into the suspicious incident reported at Gentry Middle School.

Police said officers took statements from both the suspect and witnesses and viewed surveillance video of the interaction. Police said Kelvin Joe tried to give the student money by asking him to come to the passenger side of the car, but at no time did Joe try to have a student get into his vehicle.

ORIGINAL: Columbia police said Wednesday that despite reports that a man tried to get a Gentry Middle School student to his vehicle Tuesday after school, officers did not have probable cause to cite him with anything more severe than trespassing.

Police identified Kelvin Joe, 53, of Columbia, as the man who approached the student Tuesday afternoon at about 3:20 p.m. School district officials in a notification sent to parents via email released video of the incident and said the student reported a man tried to get him to come to his vehicle.

“We have seen some stories in the media, along with social media posts, about the Gentry report that suggested Joe was luring the student in the car with money, but we have no evidence of that happening at this time,” the department said in a Facebook post.

The incidents — other suspicious activity was reported in other locations — are still under investigation, police said.

Columbia Public Schools is taking extra security measures after the incident in the parking lot of Gentry Middle School.

The student said he refused and then the man tried to give him money, according to the district.

CPS spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said she did not want to elaborate on what the district is doing to enhance security because publicizing what steps the district is taking would make those measures less effective.

The Columbia Police Department had previously cited Joe with trespassing after he acted suspiciously toward an adult at College Park Christian Academy Monday afternoon, CPD spokesman Jeff Pitts said Wednesday.

Police said in a news release Tuesday night that Joe went to the department immediately after a news conference by interim CPD Chief Geoff Jones. Joe was issued a no trespassing warning for the incident at Gentry Middle School after he went to the police.

Jones in the news conference said police do not believe the man was targeting children.

Parents of Gentry Middle School students, however, feel very differently.

Mike Burns has two children at Gentry and lives near the school. He said he does not understand why Joe received a warning and not a more serious charge.

He also said he was surprised by how quickly the police released Joe after determining he was not a threat.

Burns said he talked with his kids about not talking to strangers again after the incident.

Holly Benedict’s child also attends Gentry Middle School. She said police should have done more then give Joe a warning.

“None of it makes sense to me,” she said.

Another parent said Joe got a “slap on the wrist” with very little to no consequence. He disagreed with CPD and said he was clearing targeting children.

She also said she would not allow her daughter in eighth grade to walk to school anymore because of the incident.

While waiting to pick up her child, Dana Montgomery said she feels like parents do not know everything that happened, although she also wonders why Joe was not charged with attempted kidnapping. She said she has to put faith in the police department and the school to keep the children safe.

Jevonne Marcum also said she did not know why it was not attempted kidnapping, but said police have not released enough information for her to make a judgment as to what the charges should have been.

EDITOR’s NOTE: This story has been changed to say the student reported the man tried to get him to come to his vehicle.

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