Little detectives search for missing frog

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 16, 2005

On Monday morning, Elephant’s Fork Elementary librarian Mendie Williams opened the doors to her book-filled room… and stood back in shock.

The place had been ransacked. Tables, chairs, a trash can and even a plant had been knocked over. Sometime over the weekend, two people had had it out in a big way.

Or maybe they hadn’t been people at all. Looking around the mess, Williams was stunned-the school’s beloved frog Ribberty was gone.

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Knowing the frog wouldn’t have left on his own, Williams and the rest of the Elephant’s Fork staff hopped into action. But they didn’t call the police; there were hundreds of little detectives in classrooms throughout the school.

Over the next few days, classes of sleuths-in-training examined every inch of the library. A cough drop, green scrunchie, several band-aids, a Snickers bar wrapper, and a string of blond hair were discovered. A set of footprints led to and away from the scene, which was eventually marked off with crime tape, and a ransom note demanding 10,000 goldfish crackers in return for the amphibian was found.

Eventually, the usual suspect list was narrowed down to nine. The latent culprits were fingerprinted and interrogated. Though nothing concrete had been found at press time, suspicion still stretched across the school-the potential perpetrators were branded with shirts bearing the unenviable title of &uot;Suspect.&uot;

It was all part of the celebration of National Children’s Library Week.

&uot;We were discussing the mystery genre,&uot; Williams said. Behind her, several books from the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown and several other youth-oriented mystery series lined the library tables. &uot;(On Monday) the kids are going to vote on who took Ribberty. They sit with him and lay on him while they’re reading.&uot;

Considering that the library is such a popular place for both students and teachers, even the evidence might not point the &uot;cops&uot; in the right direction, pointed out volunteer Stella Germ.

&uot;All the teachers use the library, so these things could have been left behind before, during or after the frog-napping,&uot; she said. &uot;The kids are just eating this up; my third-grader already came home and fingerprinted everyone in the family.&uot;

Before embarking on their daily investigations, kids come in and get on the computers, visiting the Web site (Fin, Fur and Feather Bureau of Investigation), a children-oriented site about crime solving. They also visit some sites that teach about fingerprinting.

Then it’s time to go fugitive-hunting. Though both proclaimed their innocence, Darlene Carter and Peggi Parker-Butler conceded that their alibis were less than solid-and that the small investigators didn’t always believe them.

&uot;Some come up to me and ask if I paid someone else to take Ribberty, because I’m too sweet and innocent to have done it myself,&uot; said Carter, a first and second-grade volunteer, who admitted that she was in the library making copies around the time the frog vanished.

&uot;This gets children inquisitive in their minds.&uot;

Parker-Butler’s computer lab is directly adjacent to the room from which the green friend disappeared, and she’s a chocolate lover, which could explain the candy wrapper.

&uot;They know I like chocolate, so they want to know if I did it,&uot; said Parker-Butler, who also decreed her enjoyment of singing the Three Dog Night tune &uot;Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog.&uot;

&uot;I say that I’m innocent until proven guilty.&uot;

Making the journey from reading about detective work to actually doing it hasn’t been easy, admitted fifth-grader Claire LeDoyen.

&uot;It’s hard, because it might be someone that we never thought of,&uot; Claire said. &uot;There’s a whole bunch of people trying to figure it out, and what if we pick the wrong person? I hope they give Ribberty back, because he’s cool.&uot;

If the wrongdoer did so, the consequences might not be so bad, said Brandon Mathis, 11.

&uot;If they said they were sorry, we’d forgive them,&uot; he said. &uot;They didn’t have him very long.&uot;