Sanford's hiking trail near Marginal Way on March 24, days after an alleged sexual assault took place on the trail system. Police now say that they had determined that that incident had not occurred as reported, but that they are continuing to investigate. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.

An alleged sexual assault of a 13-year-old on a trail in the York County city of Sanford outraged a community last week. But now, police are providing mixed signals on what exactly happened.

Initially, police said they had received a report that a 13-year-old boy had been sexually assaulted by a group on the city’s Mousam Way Trail. Police even warned people to be vigilant while traveling on the city’s prominent trail system, walking in groups and reporting suspicious behavior.

Just a day after alerting the community, police said it hadn’t occurred. But now they are backtracking, saying the case is still under investigation.

The confusing messaging has alarmed the community and caused uncertainty from residents about the safety of their city.

On Monday, Sanford Police Chief Craig Andersen said that an investigation remains ongoing, but the event had not “occurred as initially reported.”

He declined to provide specifics, but did say that Sanford residents have no reason to worry as they walked the Mousam Way trail. However, many in Sanford had said they wouldn’t travel or let their children travel on the city’s trail system in light of the initial allegations.

“We don’t believe there is any reason for community members to be concerned about safety in the area the report indicated,” Andersen said.

The family of the purported victim has the department’s support, he said.

The alleged assault has galvanized Sanford, a former mill town around half an hour west of Biddeford. The efforts by Sanford police to inform passionate members of its community showcase the increasing prominence, as well as the delicate nature, of public messaging for Maine police departments.

The mother of the 13-year-old boy declined an interview about the investigation on Monday, but said that it was “open and active.”

In a Facebook post that is no longer public, she said that something had happened to her son but he hadn’t remembered the correct day of the alleged assault.

In an announcement on Friday, Sanford police said they had determined that the reported sexual assault on Mousam Way Trail “did not take place.” The post aroused widespread anger from the community, with many saying they continued to believe that the assault occurred.

A Saturday post amended that statement, stating that the assault “did not occur as reported” and announced a follow-up investigation. Commenters noted the language change and how different the two statements were.

The status of the department’s investigation did not change between the posts, Andersen said Monday. However, the department felt the new post better reflected “what we know.”

He said police also hoped the new post would reduce attacks on the family over social media.