Thursday, October 20, 2011

Stranger Danger Too Close to Home

I have had the stranger danger talk with my 8 year old son so much that he now recites in the most sarcastic tone he can muster, "I know mom, don't talk to strangers. Don't get close to their car, and never, ever go anywhere with them, EVEN if they offer candy, a puppy or a million dollars."

Perhaps the over protective mom in me has over done it? Could I have, by repeating myself so often, done exactly the opposite of what I intended. I want him to be so scared of being kidnapped, that he wouldn't dare venture too far from my side in a store, and is armed with enough tips that he can avoid being snatched.

Recently my insecurity about protecting my children hit far too close to home. It started with a tip from a friend whose daughter goes to a private school in our town. My friend said the school alerted all parents that someone had attempted to abduct a child from another private school just a few miles away.

She didn't know the name of the school, but I knew the day and enough other information to call police and request a police report.

I confirmed within just minutes of beginning my own investigation that a middle school aged boy waiting for his parents to pick him up after football practice was approached by a man, who actually informed the child he'd been sent by his dad to pick him up.

This boy avoided being snatched by the bad guy because he was armed with a simple tool his parents thought was important to keep him safe, a code word. The boy didn't budge when the man said, "Your dad is working late, and he told me to pick you." Instead the boy responded, "What's the code word?"

Police say that simple act may have saved the child's life. The student told police that the "bad guy" just stared at him for a moment, then drove away. The boy's parents immediately reported the incident to police, but no one was arrested.

While I was busy asking school officials and others lots of questions about the abduction attempt, someone let it slip that a similar incident happened at another private school just days before.

I confirmed that in the previous case a man in a red pick up truck approached an elementary school aged boy and tried to get him into the vehicle. It happened in the middle of the day, during afternoon pick up, with lots of adults around.

Police say the man attracted the attention of parents and once he realized the child was not going to jump in the truck, he sped off.

I was able to track down this boy's father. The boy is 6-years-old and the details his dad gave me sent chills all over me. In his case, the would-be abductor actually had a card made with the child's name on it and his teacher's name and displayed it in his car window.

It was the same sort of sign the school gives out to parents picking up their kids. Fortunately a teacher saw the man and the sign, then noticed the child's father a few cars back and went to ask him if someone else had come to pick up his son.

The man took off without ever approaching the child. Wow! How scary is that. It's been 3-weeks now and no one has been arrested. The FBI is investigating.

I took the opportunity to talk with my son again, this time armed with information about strangers trying to pick up 2-boys in our own backyard. I think my son took it seriously this time.

I also talked with his teacher and principal about safety procedures at his school. They have used the opportunity as a teaching tool, and I was thrilled to learn other schools in the area are tightening security measures too.

Police aren't yet sure if the 2-attempted abduction cases are connected, but at least one bad guy is still out there stalking our children. It's too late if he is successful in snatching a child. Take any measures necessary to protect yours.

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