DALLAS - A convenience store owner in one of Dallas' poorest neighborhoods was amazed when she started seeing children from the elementary school across the street buying candy and chips with $100 bills.
"One boy came in here with a $100 bill and asked for change," Charlene Williams said of an incident on Saturday. When she told the boy he needed to be careful with his "mama's money," he told her: "This ain't my mama's money. This is my money."
It turned out that a youngster had apparently found tens of thousands of dollars in suspected drug money and was handing it out to others.
Soon, though, some men came looking for the money, spreading fear through the South Dallas neighborhood.
Over the past few days, parents have told police that men had come to their doors, threatening their children and demanding their money back. The elementary school was so rife with rumors and threats of a drive-by shooting that it was locked down for an hour on Wednesday, and about 200 of the 600 children stayed home the next day.
On Thursday night, a man was arrested and accused of abducting and beating a 12-year-old boy who had some of the money. The boy was later returned home.
Before he was jailed on $5 million bail, the suspect, 23-year-old Sylvespa Adams, told KDFW-TV that he never threatened anyone and that the money had been stolen from him. He disputed it was drug money, as police suspect.
"I'm not no kidnapper," he said. "I work."
The boy's mother told The Dallas Morning News that her son had spent part of the money and given away the rest. She said she assured Adams that she would pay him back in installments.
"I don't know what else to do," she told the newspaper, speaking on condition of anonymity. "These people already know where I stay."
In another incident, Erie Roy told the newspaper that she was watching television with her 12-year-old son Tuesday when two men stormed through her open front door with two of the boy's friends. She said one of the men kept his hand in his pocket as if he had a gun, and one of the boys was crying.
Roy said one of the men threatened her son by telling him: "I don't have no problem with killing you. I want my money right now."
"These are drug dealers. If they come back - I'm afraid," she said, sobbing. "I know they're going to hurt me. What am I supposed to do?"
Roy said that her youngest son was offered money by neighborhood kids Sunday but did not take any.
Lt. Jan Easterling, a police spokeswoman, said Thursday that detectives believe the youngsters may have found anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000.
On Friday, investigators said were still trying to determine who found the money, where and exactly how much. There were no additional suspects, and none of the children had been charged with a crime.
"Definitely people are saying they're afraid," Easterling said. "They're afraid for their kids."
At the Joseph J. Rhoads Learning Center, teachers became suspicious after seeing one boy passing out money at school Monday. And Williams, the store owner, said she also noticed children with new shoes and coats. "All you have to do is see the ones with the new stuff on them and you know," she said.
Security remained tight at the school Friday, though the number of students absent was down to about 100. "They feel a little better now that this alleged suspect turned himself in," district spokeswoman Sandra Guerrero said.
On the Net:
Dallas school district: http://www.dallasisd.org
Associated Press writer Liz Austin contributed to this report.