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Parents concerned about suspicious incident at UTC Target

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SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. --  A local mother's strange shopping experience could be a warning for other parents. Aron Owens was inside Target at University Town Center when she was approached by two women associated with a religious group. Though she believes they had other intentions, her story is driving concern of other parents online.

"It just set off those alarm bells like is there someone in the parking lot that's gonna grab the both of us when we leave?" questioned Sarasota mother Aron Owens following an incident at Target on August 12, 2017.

Owens calls target her happy place but a shopping trip for her daughter's birthday turned uncomfortable when she was approached by two women claiming to be with a religious group.

"It didn't feel like it was any sharing of religion," explained Owens. "It just felt like it was their excuse to be talking to me."

The interaction made her so uneasy she contacted law enforcement the next day. Owens told Sarasota County deputies the women seemed to be fixated on her child and pregnant stomach. As one woman spoke with Owens, the other was texting and looking at her two-year old daughter.

"It started getting really weird, and I started getting more and more freaked out by it," described Owens.

Owen's posted a description of the experience on Facebook, and heard back from dozens of parents saying they've been approached by other women with the same religious group near UTC and a local Walmart. It also caught the eye of Selah Freedom President and C.E.O. Elizabeth Melendez Fisher, who's concerned it could be part of a sex trafficking scheme.

"These predators are so skilled and deceptive and they have recruiters that look like all kinds of people," explained Melendez Fisher.

She said there are many faces to sex trafficking; some targeting women or their children directly.

"Some are out there luring your children like let's get them into modeling, or [saying] 'she's so pretty. I have an idea that will help your daughter.' It's about pursuing relationships with them in a subtle way," said Melendez Fisher.

She said Owens did the right thing by reporting the incident to law enforcement and both want other parents to be aware and vigilant.

"I wanted people to recognize the situation should they get approached so they know to just get away," said Owens about her viral Facebook post.

Owens also reported the incident to Target's customer service. Target said the security team helped her and released a statement to ABC7 saying: "as part of this commitment to safety, we have robust procedures, policies and training in place to ensure that our stores are safe places to shop and work."

The sheriff's office did not charge these women with a crime, but Selah Freedom said you should always be aware of your surroundings, and if you find yourself in a similar situation, you should report it to law enforcement right away.