Children risk sparking large-scale police searches if they take part in an internet challenge which sees them hide in department stores overnight, officers have warned.
The so-called 24 Hour Challenge encourages members of the public to hide and build forts in large stores and warehouses overnight, before sneaking out the following morning.
In one reported case, Abid Mirza of Sheffield said he went through a “very rough time” when his 11-year-old son allegedly spent the night in an Ikea store.
Kaden Mirza, from Nether Edge, vanished on his way home from school on Tuesday afternoon. He was last seen on a bus on London Road, after leaving King Ecgberts School, Dore, but failed to return home. The youngster was missing overnight but found safe and well the next morning.
His father, Abid Mirza, has now turned to Facebook to issue a warning to parents about a new craze where children take up a challenge to go missing for a set period of time.
He said his son’s internet history revealed that he had been looking at websites detailing how to hide for 24 hours without being detected. He said the youngster went missing as part of the ‘Stay in IKEA for overnight and not get caught challenge’.
Mr Mirza said: “We have been through some very rough time in the last 24 hours. I hope no parents go through this.
“I just don’t have the words to describe what to say. A few weeks ago I saw on his mobile history where he searched for ‘24hrs stay in school and go undetected’. I confronted him and asked him and he said ‘Oh, I heard this in school and was just looking it up’.
“I thought nothing of it as I believed him but maybe I shouldn’t have. He’s been watching videos and checking the web for all this and then deleting it and never left a clue. He planned it quite well.
“We as a family are very grateful to everyone who helped out in any way. We have been through very, very hard time.
“I am in contact with the teacher and trying to speak to other people where we can come up with something which will help other parents to check up and keep an eye on their children. Look at their phones, tablets, anything they’ve got and go through their history to see anything that’s not normal.
“Two kids from the Firth Park area tried doing this same thing last week and got caught within few hours. And this trend is growing.
“Be very careful and if you do go to supermarkets, stores or especially IKEA. Just watch out for kids on their own, especially after school. Report them please.”
Detective Inspector Anna Sedgwick of South Yorkshire Police said the risks and harm that could be caused are “by no means humorous and could be catastrophic”.
She added: “Warehouses and shopping departments contain large quantities of heavy stock and items that could easily fall and crush someone if they are moved incorrectly, or used to build makeshift forts.
“As well as the safety risk, children often do this without the knowledge of their parents, which could lead to large-scale searches or even cause them to be reported as missing.
“This not only causes fear and worry for parents, friends, family and the local community but can also be a waste of valuable police time, which may be needed to respond to a life or death situation.”
She added the force is working with schools to raise awareness of the “craze”.