Man Handing Out Teddy Bears Terrifies Town

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A dad in Ostego, Michigan, population 3,956, terrified parents, police and school administrators by handing out teddy bears to people he passed on the street, including children in the presence of adults. It was Ken Cronkhite’s attempt to spread some happiness and help his 89-year-old father, the owner of an 800-teddy bear collection, to downsize.

And it backfired.

As news spread of a man, a plan, and his plush toys, the police department’s phone lines lit up. Officers sped off to patrol the bus stops as at  least one frantic mom ripped apart her kid’s bear to see if it contained something insidious.

Meanwhile, the school district jumped into action, alerting parents with emergency phone calls and going on Facebook to warn of “a heavyset, older, white man handing out teddy bears to kids from his silver SUV.”

“We have not been told that this man threatened anyone or tried to lure students to him, and adults have been present during two encounters,” the letter said, “however, it raises a concern as we want to be sure our students are safe.”

Hmm. A man who is neither threatening nor luring kids, and only approaching the ones who are directly supervised by an adult? Yes, that sure is scary.

According to the Kalamazoo Gazette’s MLive, commenters on the Facebook post fretted that the bears could be filled with heroin syringes or hidden cameras. But when Cronkhite’s teenage son read it, he realized: That’s my dad!

Dad immediately called the cops to tell them: I’m your man.

Cronkhite said he is a veteran Marine and a retired Chicago police officer and had fun approaching shoppers with children in store parking lots, people jogging along the streets, and children gathered with adults at bus stops or picnic tables.

He said he made sure there was an adult accompanying any children he approached.

He said he started the direct giveaways after he had distributed bags of bears to Sylvia’s Place shelter for battered women, and to the American Cancer Society in Kalamazoo. Some charities would not accept the stuffed animals because they were not brand new, he said.

So his elderly mother washed them all and his father told him to just give them to any takers in an attempt to spread some happiness, Cronkhite said.

But spreading happiness is a lot harder than spreading hysteria, Cronkhite learned.

When his father asked him to distribute the bears to children,  it never occurred to him not to do it.

“It was really fun until this happened,” said Cronkhite.

“This” being America, 2016, when even the police chief says that parents are “rightly on alert for any contact between their children and adults they don’t know.”

Even when the kids are standing right next to their parents, apparently. Because no one who isn’t you should ever interact with your kids. After all, you never know when a man with a teddy bear might pull a syringe out of the bear’s stuffing, shoot the parent full of heroin, and run off with the child.

Certainly Cronkhite has learned his lesson: “I will never try to go out and try to do anything nice for anyone again.”

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So much for trying to spread happiness.

So much for trying to spread happiness.

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44 Responses to Man Handing Out Teddy Bears Terrifies Town

  1. Earth.W September 14, 2016 at 12:10 pm #

    All men should be put to death at birth so the feminazis can oppress women as they please.

  2. Beth2 September 14, 2016 at 12:12 pm #

    The last sentence made me so sad. I hope he rethinks the “lesson” he learned.

    “You don’t have to change the world. Just keep the world from changing you.” -Colman McCarthy

  3. Jason September 14, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

    Next thing you know, kids all over the South will start reporting that someone tried to give them a teddy bear.

  4. John B. September 14, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

    “even the police chief says that parents are ‘rightly on alert for any contact between their children and adults they don’t know.’”

    We Americans are turning our children into a bunch of anti-social misfits. As a child in the early 60s I was taught to never accept CANDY or a RIDE from a stranger even if they said they knew my parents. BUT my parents never prohibited me from SPEAKING to a stranger, particularly when spoken to and I’m certain that if a stranger gave me a teddy bear as I was walking down the street with my parents, they would have been elated at the stranger’s kind gesture. We’re just lacking so much common sense here.

    Yes, welcome to 21st century America, the land of pedophile paranoia.

  5. Katie September 14, 2016 at 12:31 pm #

    I feel bad for the guy, he was just trying to be nice.

  6. Renee Anne September 14, 2016 at 12:33 pm #

    Sadly, stories like this are the reason I’ve not partaken in the Little Yellow Duck project (http://thelittleyellowduckproject.org/) wherein you make little yellow ducks (there are knitting, crochet, and sewing pattern) and attach a tag about organ/tissue/blood donation. The idea is that you leave them around for people to find and take home….but I can imagine the hysteria that could go along with it.

    Of course, I’ll probably still do it.

  7. Gina September 14, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

    “I will never try to go out and try to do anything nice for anyone again.”

    No! Please.

    “Be the change you wish to see in the world”–gandhi

  8. Paul September 14, 2016 at 12:42 pm #

    What annoys me the most about this is that adults were TAKING the teddy bear and then reporting him. Not so scared as to pass up free stuff, but scared enough to hassle a guy giving out toys. If he SOLD the bears from a roadside stand, I wonder if people would be more likely to trust him.

    How much longer until NORAD opens fire on Santa Claus?

  9. Andrea D. September 14, 2016 at 12:58 pm #

    I wish we knew this guy’s address so we could write him letters of support. Good grief.

    The only reason I wouldn’t be thrilled is that my daughter has 10,000 stuffed animals already. LOL. J/K (Only about not being thrilled, not the amount of stuffed animals she has.)

    I hate to think also that a kind old man, his father who told him to give them to people, has also been disillusioned by this.

  10. Andrea September 14, 2016 at 12:58 pm #

    How hard is it to say, “No thank you, my child has too many toys as it is,” if you are skeptical?

    It’s one thing to be paranoid, it’s another thing to be a jerk about it.

  11. Silver Fang September 14, 2016 at 1:21 pm #

    As a Michigander, I am embarrassed and ashamed.

  12. April September 14, 2016 at 1:29 pm #

    Sad story of a good hearted action taken in the wrong way.

  13. lollipoplover September 14, 2016 at 1:46 pm #

    Lenore,

    You post some depressing stories about modern day parenting, but reading this makes me so sad:

    “Certainly Cronkhite has learned his lesson: “I will never try to go out and try to do anything nice for anyone again.”

    Citizens of Ostego, Michigan need to apologize to this Veteran and retired Police Officer. He should be elevated to a pillar of the community with his service to not only his country but community and instead he was labeled a creeper.
    Over free Teddy Bears.
    The ER gives out free teddy bears (donated) to young patients. What a great idea, in a time of need.

    Maybe local schools can invite Mr. Cronkhite in for VETERANS DAY and have him speak about his life and give out the teddy bear collection at a school. What better way to remember the history of those who served than with a teddy bear?

    Veterans Day isn’t until November 11th this year so the parents of Ostego, Michigan can do background checks on all of the teddy bears and put them through TSA screenings, assure they are heroin, nut, and gluten free and for their vulnerable children.

  14. James Pollock September 14, 2016 at 1:50 pm #

    “at least one frantic mom ripped apart her kid’s bear to see if it contained something insidious.”

    If you thought it might contain something insidious, frantic mom, why did you take it?

  15. theresa September 14, 2016 at 2:25 pm #

    What happened to be able to say no thank you? Nobody forced them to take the bears. And few x-rays show nothing but stuffing inside the bears so tell everyone probably no need to worry instead slandering someone good name

  16. SanityAnyone? September 14, 2016 at 2:30 pm #

    I can bearly believe it. I’ve heard of drug mules, but this is new.

    Meanwhile, these parents probably let their kids handle money, even though 90% of U.S. currency is laced with cocaine.

  17. SteveD September 14, 2016 at 3:09 pm #

    Obviously, all those people have filled their minds with false information and are not living in the present reality.

    However….

    Wouldn’t it have been a good idea to state exactly “why” you’re giving the teddy bears away and “where” they came from? I’m pretty sure that if you prefaced your kindhearted give-away with the “right” story, you could have had the parents in tears and giving the man a hug instead of calling the police.

  18. Mandy September 14, 2016 at 3:16 pm #

    How sad that you can’t do something nice without being under suspicion.

  19. James Pollock September 14, 2016 at 4:04 pm #

    How many counts of “aggravated talking to kids while male” is he guilty of? He’s lucky he’s not looking at felony time…

  20. Diane September 14, 2016 at 4:12 pm #

    I’m assuming he had some sort of spiel explaining what he was doing. I’ll bet some of those people who accepted the Bear and reported him would not have believed any story. Greedy for accepting the bear in bad faith, self absorbed for thinking everyone is after their special child, and mean spirited for slandering this poor guy with their speculations.

  21. Suzanne September 14, 2016 at 4:39 pm #

    I think this is the saddest story I’ve read on here. Wow, just wow.

  22. pentamom September 14, 2016 at 5:02 pm #

    “Wouldn’t it have been a good idea to state exactly “why” you’re giving the teddy bears away and “where” they came from? I’m pretty sure that if you prefaced your kindhearted give-away with the “right” story, you could have had the parents in tears and giving the man a hug instead of calling the police.”

    That is true. It is also true that the man bears absolutely no responsibility for not realizing or doing this. You shouldn’t need to have a comforting story for why you are doing something that actually is harmless.

  23. lollipoplover September 14, 2016 at 5:21 pm #

    “Still, it’s not a good idea in this day and age, the police chief said, when parents are rightly on the alert for any contact between their children and adults they don’t know.

    Konkle said the school was right to alert parents and remind them to talk with their children about strangers.

    Police and schools received calls from mothers who were quite alarmed, he said, and at least one woman had torn the stuffed bear her child received to pieces, worried that it might harbor something harmful.”

    Do police departments actually study crime rates?
    If they knew the real statistics, then tell the parents to be “rightly on the alert” between any contact between their children and adults the DO know. THESE are the ones to worry about!
    Not veterans giving away free toys.

    And instead of the school alerting parents and reminding them to talk to their children about strangers, how about bringing up the topic of gun safety and kids?? Please?!

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160914090555.htm

    Another 2 year-old was killed this week in our county. He was at his grandparent’s house and shot himself in the chest.
    But teddy bears make parents anxious….

  24. TeacherJR September 14, 2016 at 6:02 pm #

    lollipoplover – You’re right. Part of being a gun owner is practicing firearms safety and teaching others in the household about firearms safety as well. If the article is correct and a huge percentage of kids spend time in homes that have guns, it would make sense to have something like “Firearms Safety Week” at school where the kids could go through the Eddie Eagle gun-safety program. Older kids could be shown graphic pictures of the damage a gun can do. And gun-owning parents could do their part by demystifying the gun, explaining how it works, and allowing children who demonstrate appropriate maturity to use it and clean it under supervision.

    The best analogy I can think of is having a backyard swimming pool. You keep it fenced, and you supervise the kids at all times, but you sure as hell teach them to swim. And for what it’s worth, swimming pools take the lives of more children under age 10 than guns do.

    http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2001/07/27/levittpoolsvsguns/

  25. Yocheved September 14, 2016 at 6:43 pm #

    I’m just going to park this link here. It’s never been more appropriate.

    https://youtu.be/Y29vJ2gQ2fA?list=PLfWdh4XTtIqnVcLdXTjXzvv_ahtWOC2S7

  26. SteveS September 14, 2016 at 6:54 pm #

    And instead of the school alerting parents and reminding them to talk to their children about strangers, how about bringing up the topic of gun safety and kids?? Please?!

    A better idea may be to have a realistic outlook. Most parents must be talking to kids about this because gun accidents are at the lowest point they have been in decades. Despite the fact that guns can be dangerous and that ownership is fairly common, gun accidents among kids are very rare. If you are looking at kids age 1-14, they account for around 1% of all accidental deaths. Things like cars, pools, and household chemicals are far more likely to injure or kill children.

    Michigan actually has a law that allows for gun safety to be taught in public schools. Because of the Headlee Amenment, it is not mandated. Despite there being several non-profits and other groups volunteering to teach this for free, no schools seem interested.

  27. ezymel September 14, 2016 at 7:42 pm #

    Oh, it’s too bad that something like would happen to the man handing out the teddy bears. According to the story, he meant well and he was doing it out of his heart. However, this man should understand the consequences as there is so much going on with distrust in general. Anything which seems out of the ordinary, discretion is advised. You can easily be arrested and have to prove your innocence and you better justify the means to do so. Yes, it is true what goes on in our times. As difficult as it may seem to hear that a child has been kidnapped or even worse raped, injured or possibly killed, many things come to mind. What was once is no longer viable today. You see it so many times what happens to children in the media. It is also very unfortunate that a child growing up today hears so many negative things in school, home and others about abductions, that I wonder how that child grows up to be a trusting citizen and even feel good about themselves.

  28. Jess September 14, 2016 at 8:01 pm #

    “going on Facebook to warn of “a heavyset, older, white man handing out teddy bears to kids from his” sleigh? You were going to say sleigh right? Haven’t all kids been taught that accepting toys from heavyset, older white men is acceptable? Then again, maybe he didn’t have a beard…

  29. MomOf8 September 14, 2016 at 8:03 pm #

    Mr. Cronkhite, please don’t give up on kindness because of those retched people. We just need more of it so it becomes commonplace.

  30. Linda September 14, 2016 at 8:45 pm #

    My hubby make wooden helicopters for Operation Christmas Child, and he make many extra. He gives them to the kids he meets at Walmart or at restaurants. So far, no police have been called. What a sad America we have become when you can’t even to nice things for children!

  31. ChicagoDad September 14, 2016 at 9:25 pm #

    @ezymel a child growing up today hears so many negative things in school, home and others about abductions, that I wonder how that child grows up to be a trusting citizen and even feel good about themselves

    I’ve been wondering the same thing, There is a post that keeps showing up on my Facebook feed, its like this: http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/23/health/no-homework-letter-trnd/
    A teacher in Texas sends a letter home saying there will be no homework this year, instead the students are supposed to do good, old fashioned things like play outside, do chores, eat dinner with the family and get a good night’s sleep. My friends and aquaintences like and share this letter with emphatic statements of agreement and wishes that their kids’ schools would do the same.

    When I see this, I think to myself, “If you thought that this was the right thing to do, why are you sacrificing your kids’ time to play outside, do chores, eat dinner with the family and get a good night’s sleep? If you thought these things were more important than homework, why didn’t you just have your own kids ignore their mountains of homework in the first place?” So deep is our love of authority, so much do we long to be told what to do. We want someone to say it’s OK.

    There once were times and places when people outside the norm, people with no authority, were revered for their insights; the hermit in the desert, the lonely pioneer, the saint in the treehouse, the hallucinating visionary. I say, go find a view from the edge and really watch and listen, and then go do what’s right, even if it means dismissing the norms and being different, insubordinate or weird.

  32. pentamom September 14, 2016 at 10:04 pm #

    ” However, this man should understand the consequences as there is so much going on with distrust in general. Anything which seems out of the ordinary, discretion is advised.”

    By justifying this attitude, even half-heartedly as you do, you are only making it worse.

    The category of “seems out of the ordinary” which you seem to think makes the person involved responsible for the reaction, is ever-expanding and infinitely flexible. The idea that anyone who does *anything* that “seems” “out of the ordinary” to people (whom? anybody who decides it is?) should realize he’s letting himself in for trouble is awful.

    People should realize they’re subject to negative consequences if they do things that are illegal are harmful. People should only realize they’re subject to negative consequences for doing kind, albeit unusual things, if we’re willing to concede that we live in a society of absolute paranoia and distrust, like something out of a dystopian novel.

    And if we live in that kind of society, it doesn’t matter what anyone does, they’ll get in trouble. So one person doesn’t need to understand the consequences or “exercise discretion” any more than the next, because anything at all absolutely innocuous could be perceived as dangerous by someone motivated to do so. We might as well just wait for the jackboots to show up for all of us.

    Thankfully, I don’t believe that we actually do live in that kind of society. And I think we should act like we don’t by pushing back against such reactions, not conceding that people who hand out teddy bears “should understand the consequences” and “use discretion” about doing 100% legal, 100% harmless activities.

  33. sexhysteria September 15, 2016 at 1:56 am #

    I’m telling every parent and child I know in my area to be on the alert for this guy, even though we’re 3,000 miles away.

  34. Derek Logue of OnceFallen.com September 15, 2016 at 4:01 am #

    Teddy bears full of heroin needles? That explains the local heroin “epidemic.”

  35. Gary September 15, 2016 at 5:56 am #

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=entkO2ot-3w

  36. Kim September 15, 2016 at 10:03 am #

    As the old saying goes “no good deed goes unpunished”

  37. Greg September 15, 2016 at 12:12 pm #

    I just sent Chief Konkel a not so nice email. These people need to be told how idiotic their actions are and HOW IT HURTS CHILDREN. That is right they are hurting children. The real predators are the emotional basket cases, extreme busy bodies, and worst first thinkers. They do not understand rational thinking they only understand force.

    I can tell you exactly what happened in these encounters. Keep in mind the only gave bears away when the parents were with the child. Most of the parents saw it fro what it was and were thankful however some passive aggressive parents made it seem like everything was OK but then turned around and stabbed him in the back with calls to the police. All they had to do was simply decline the bear! But of course these passive aggressive sociopaths have a different idea of what is to be human and they thrive on back stabbing. They get off on it I promise you.

  38. Buffy September 15, 2016 at 3:11 pm #

    I’ve been thinking about “stranger danger” due to the new school year beginning. Unless a kid has the same teacher as last year, and there has been absolutely no turnover in teaching staff, administration, or support staff, there are going to be some strangers at school. Are the kids who are taught this scared at the beginning of the year? Do the parents say “all strangers are dangerous except the ones at school”. “Oh and the grocery checkout girl that we’ve never met before.” “Oh, and the new library lady.”

    Man, if I were the child of stranger-danger parents I would be so confused.

  39. Derek Logue of OnceFallen.com September 16, 2016 at 5:35 am #

    I am willing to bet the woman who ripped the bear open looking for drugs was disappointed because she must be on some kind of drug already and was hoping a free refill was in the teddy bear.

  40. baby-paramedic September 16, 2016 at 8:13 am #

    *rolls eyes*
    Lucky I wasn’t arrested in Tokyo a couple of days ago, although I have the advantage in this case being female.

    It started with my husband wanting me to bring back something of a particular anime character he enjoyed in his childhood. Only place I saw one was in a vending machine. So, I kept putting in yen until the one I needed came out (the things we do for love).

    I then had maybe a dozen of these other characters, that I had no use for. So I gave them out to children (and the odd tourist) who passed by.

  41. baby-paramedic September 16, 2016 at 8:19 am #

    As for explaining why I was doing it?
    My Japanese is pretty limited to numbers, words needed for catching the train, my job, my place of origin, and hello, goodbye, thankyou, and the most important “I don’t understand”.

    Explaining why I have a dozen of these plastic anime characters is not in that vocabulary.

  42. Korou September 17, 2016 at 6:08 am #

    To Earth.W,
    This has nothing to do with “feminazis”. I hope that most of the commenters on here, male or female, are feminists – people who believe in equal rights for women – and that we’re all has horrified as Lenore about this story of ridiculous overreaction.

  43. Joanna September 17, 2016 at 10:07 am #

    Andrea D., according to (OF COURSE!) a background-check site, the Teddy Bear man’s address is:

    Ken Cronkite
    251 16th
    Otsego MI 49078

    My thank you card will be in the mail shortly!

  44. Katie September 20, 2016 at 2:57 pm #

    The scary and odd part is that no one complains about the SUV which is actually dangerous, just the harmless teddy bears.