KEYES -- Stanislaus County Sheriff’s investigators are looking for a shoplifter who has apparently used a young girl as a decoy to commit his crimes.
The most recent incident was at the Dollar General store in the community of Keyes between Modesto and Turlock. Store cameras caught the man handing items to what appears to be a 4- or 5-year-old girl.
"Placing them in her hands and then going towards the back of the store, putting her down. And getting the items and concealing them on his body," said Stanislaus County Sheriff's Sgt. Royjinder Singh.
The store manager chased them down the street before losing them.
It turns out the man has done the same thing in the store five other times, using the child as a decoy or to disarm employees.
Numerous shoppers at the Dollar General were astounded after looking at the photograph captured by a surveillance camera, saying it should never happen.
"I think he should go to jail for a long time with an extra enhancement just for using the child," said Nanette Stidham.
After the picture was posted on social media, customers and employees at four other Dollar General stores in surrounding areas said the suspect had stolen items at those stores as well.
Sheriff’s investigators say they now have some leads.
"They've given us some names and addresses, some vehicle descriptions," Singh told FOX40. "So those are leads we’re going to try and follow up on today."
While multiple shoplifting crimes are misdemeanors, the way the thefts are orchestrated is the biggest concern.
"We want to make sure the welfare of the child is OK. Are there other children that are in the care and custody of this person?" Singh said.
It has been assumed that the person is the child’s parent. Investigators say they will be working with Child Protective Services to see if there are some other violations in play.
Anyone who has any ideas as to the identity of the shoplifter can call Singh at 209-226-3923 or Crime Stoppers. Callers can remain anonymous.