POSTED: 12:01 am EDT May 2, 2008
UPDATED: 12:29 pm EDT May 2, 2008
ORLANDO, Fla. -- An experiment to raise awareness about the plight of missing children found that a majority of people did not notice or stop to help a little girl after seeing her face on a missing person poster a few feet away.
Local 6 printed missing posters of Britney -- a paid 8-year-old actress -- and posted them at the entrance of the Fashion Square Mall in Orlando.
Britney sat alone on a mall seat near a missing poster as her father watched from a distance inside a nearby Panera restaurant.
The experiment was to determine how many people would notice or help the girl posing as a missing child.
Local 6 videotaped person after person entering the mall without even noticing the missing child signs.
Others who did see the posters on the doors were videotaped walking by the missing child.
"I saw her but didn't know what to think," shopper Megan Reed said.
"I didn't even see her," shopper Priseilla Landerer said. "I didn't notice her."
The majority of people at the mall who did see a missing person sign also saw the young girl but just kept walking, Local 6's Donald Forbes reported.
"I took a good look at the poster," shopper Tony Roush said. "I'm a photographer, so I'm good with faces and I walked in and I was like, 'That's the girl. What do I do?'"
Some people said they were fearful of getting involved.
"That’s what I was thinking," a shopper said. "I was scared the mom would pop out of nowhere and be like, 'Why are you talking to my child?'"
"Yeah, I think a lot of people have that fear (of getting involved)," shopper Omar Rijos said.
Forbes said there was concern by shoppers that if they started a conversation, it would be misconstrued by a possible nearby parent.
"We don't want to get really close because some people don't like it when you bother their child," shopper Linda Turner said.
Others said they didn't want to overreact or be made to look foolish.
"I didn't want to go tell the police and it not be her," shopper Jose Adorno said. "I really didn't know what to do."
Out of the dozen and dozens of people who walked by the girl, only two actually stopped to ask if Britney was OK, Forbes reported.
Marlon Campbell and Gina Perazella noticed the missing flier and then the girl.
Perazella sat down next to the girl and started to ask questions.
"She was alone," Perazella said. "I didn't see any parents around so that was another thing that kind of shocked me as well. And then, (Campbell) said that is the girl on the poster, so the poster definitely let us know."
Chelsa Stewart said she also noticed the girl but did not initially stop and went about her shopping. However, she came back 10 minutes later to ask Britney is she was OK.
"You might as well check," Stewart said. "It's better to be safe than sorry."
Katey Yocum and Maria Majiros Courtney were videotaped looking carefully at a flier and then at the child.
Both went to the nearest store and asked a manager to call security.
"I was like, 'What are the chances?'" Majiros said. "I'm like, 'No, that couldn't be it' and then I was like, 'It looks like her.'"
The experiment and the reactions of shoppers was upsetting and satisfying to the child's real father who watched the experiment from a distance.
"On one hand, I wish someone could have stopped to check on a little girl who was obviously by herself," father Brian Ball said. "But on the other hand, it was nice to see there weren't a lot of men walking up to her and random strangers."
For safety, Local 6 lined the surrounding halls of the mall with producers and planted undercover cameras at the main entrance.
Watch Local 6 News for more on this story.