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Police solve mystery of ‘suspicious’ photographer at Ferndale elementary school

Three people who spooked parents and staff at a Ferndale elementary school by taking pictures outside the school, then speeding off in a car when someone tried to talk to them, have been identified as employees of a politicial advertising firm from Washington D.C., according to city police.

Here’s the original alert posted on the City of Ferndale’s Facebook page.

PUBLIC SAFETY NOTICE: Today [Wednesday, Sept. 10] at about 10:30 a.m. a dark colored Subaru wagon (similar to an Outback) was seen in the parking lot of Skyline Elementary and one of the passengers appeared to be filming the school and students.

When Skyline staff members attempted to confront the three occupants of the vehicle they attempted to conceal their identity and the vehicle exited the parking lot at a high rate of speed in reverse. Ferndale Police were called and a report was made. No children were threatened or harmed.

The vehicle was described as a Subaru wagon with unknown British Columbia plates. It had a roof rack and two stickers on the driver side windshield. If this vehicle is seen near any schools, please do not attempt to contact the vehicle and call 911 to report it.

The post spread far and wide on social media, with more than 480 shares about an incident in a town of about 11,400. As of Thursday, police had no evidence of a crime. But they wanted to track down the car — and the two men and one woman inside — to make sure the people weren’t up to something criminal.

Security footage helped to crack the case: The Subaru Forester’s plates were from D.C., not B.C.

Here’s the update from the City of Ferndale.

A recent report of a suspicious vehicle at Skyline Elementary has been found to be a non-incident in which no children were ever in danger.

Through the help of those who took photographs, surveillance video, and provided witness statements regarding the vehicle on September 10th, the Ferndale Police, with the help of other local and federal agencies, were able to identify the vehicle in question, as well as those who occupied the vehicle. Follow up investigation revealed that the individuals work for a credible political advertising firm and were in the City of Ferndale to take photographs for a potential ad campaign. The agency is not being identified because no crime was committed and there was no threat.

While the license plates were initially reported as being from British Columbia, additional investigation revealed the license plate was actually from Washington, D.C.

The producer of the firm, who was one of the individuals in the vehicle, was contacted in person by law enforcement and then again by telephone. The producer ensured law enforcement that only photographs were taken of government buildings, to include schools. No people, including children, were photographed. There was no video recorded. The consultants have a policy of non-engagement, because of the confidentiality of the campaigns they work for, and therefore left the area once they recognized someone may be coming to speak with them. The producer apologized for the concern and worry that was caused and ensured the Ferndale Police that they were only in the area for one day and have no plans of returning.

If they do come back to Ferndale they will be advising the Ferndale Police Department ahead of time.

As stated above, police have declined to release the name of the firm, because no crime was committed. But the name will be in a police report. The Herald has requested the report.