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Moundsville incident reminds us to empower, keep eye on our kids

August 14, 2013 - Betsy Bethel
When I read about the little boy who some creep attempted to abduct in Moundsville yesterday, I was so grateful the attempt was unsuccessful. When I read in the paper this morning HOW the attempt failed, I wanted to rejoice and shout it from the mountaintops.

According to the report, "the boy turned away and started walking toward his house, but the driver swung the vehicle around and blocked the child's path. The boy then started yelling 'Fire!'" and the driver took off. The white man driving the silver Buick LeSabre is still at large -- police are checking out video footage from nearby cameras to see if they can ID him or the car plates.

The fact that the boy knew to yell something like "Fire!" to draw attention to himself is no doubt what saved him. I hope every parent in the Ohio Valley is talking to their kids today about what to do if approached by a stranger like that. My daughter and I reviewed safety steps this morning. I have taught her, using mostly the Yello Dyno safety program, that if she is grabbed, to kick, flail, scream and yell "This is not my father!" or "This is not my mother!" Yelling "Fire!" or "911!" also would work -- anything to draw attention to herself.

If her mouth is covered, she knows to kick or punch in the neck or between the legs. I also told her to try to bite, but she balked -- she wasn't so sure about biting someone who might dirty. I challenged her: "Would you rather him take you away and you never see me again?" Well, nooooo. OK then.

But how do you avoid getting snatched up at all when someone approaches you? Emma knows from the research commissioned by Yello Dyno that the protocol is to take three steps backward and then turn and "run like the wind." By taking three steps back, you are out of arm's reach, and once you run, potential abductors are not likely to chase you down and draw attention to themselves.

Emma knows her address, how to call 911 and knows my phone number. I worry, though, with all of the different models of phones, would she be able to work someone else's phone (other than mine)? It's an important safety issue for all of our kids. It's much more complicated today than just picking up a receiver and punching three numbers -- 9-1-1 -- or even just ONE number -- 0. Then again, it seems kids are tech savvy by the time they can sit up by themselves today, so maybe it's not as big of a deal as I think. The important thing, I think, is to remind them they have to press "call" or "send" or "the green button" to make sure the call goes through.

All this is well and good -- empowering our kids is a vital component of their safety education. (By the way, I highly recommend the Safety Town programs for ages 4 and 5 that run each summer in Wheeling and a few other local communities. They teach songs -- which are easier to remember in an emergency situation when adrenaline is pumping -- and they bring in police and firefighters and other special guests to teach kids everything from pedestrian safety to Internet safety.)

But as parents, we can't shirk our responsibilities to keep our kids safe. That means that, in this day and age, you can't let your children play in the neighborhood unsupervised. Last night, my daughter befriended a new neighbor girl while we were eating dinner outside. The girl is 6 and had been riding bikes with her three siblings, 5, 8 and 9. The others had gone inside, but "Annie," who lives a few doors down and across the street, stayed to talk to Emma. I asked her if her mom knew where she was and she said yes. "OK, because if she doesn't, she'll be worried about you," I said. Twenty minutes later, the mom walked past our yard, noticed her daughter and yelled to her. She hadn't known where she was but assumed she was at a nearby relative's house. "She's OK," my husband called out. She was, but I would not have been OK if I were the mom. The mom went on her way to the relative's house; didn't even come over to meet us.

I started letting Emma play outside in our fenced-in yard by herself when she was 4. I remember it well, nervously peeking out the kitchen window every minute or two to make sure I could lay eyes on her and that she wasn't eating rocks. She's 7 now, and I am still keenly aware of her whereabouts when she plays outside in the yard. She is NEVER allowed to go outside the gate, even to our driveway, unless I know about it. She has broken this rule a couple times and has received a tongue-lashing for it.

I am thankful she knows how important it is to stay in my sights. Last Saturday at the Warwood Lions Festival, the unthinkable happened. My parents, brother and I were standing sentinel in the midst of all the inflatables, all of us scanning the throngs of kids constantly to make sure we had at least one set of eyes on the three kids -- my two nephews, ages 11 and 12, and Emma. It only took a couple minutes but it happened ... I couldn't find Emma. I staked out all of the inflatables, but she was nowhere. I circled the park and started asking people, including a Wheeling fireman at the Fire Safety House (also a GREAT resource, incidentally) if they had seen a blond in a pink shirt and plaid shorts. I searched for what seemed like forever and in reality was about five minutes, until my step-dad spotted her in the back car of the barrel train, clanking through the center of the crowd.

When the train parked, she saw me heading toward her and knew by the look on my face how much trouble she was in. I didn't yell but told her very sternly how frightened I was when I couldn't find her. She said, "I thought you saw me" get on the train, but I know she DIDN'T really think I saw her -- Note to kids: A mom can always tell when you fibbing. She thought about what had happened, and the seriousness of it hit her like a ton of bricks -- thank God. She sobbed and clung to me for a good five minutes, saying she was sorry. I always want her to remember that moment. I know I'll never forget it.

Parents also need to be downright VIGILANT about who they allow to watch their children and spend time with them. In 90 percent of child sexual abuse cases, the child knows his/her abuser. These are moms' boyfriends, neighbors, family friends or relatives who seem to want to spend more time with your child than you do, religious leaders, youth group leaders, camp counselors and even, sad to say, grandparents and older siblings. As a friend of mine on Facebook mentioned yesterday relating to another case in the news, it is recommended divorced parents do not introduce "new people" into their children's lives for at least a year after the divorce. Parents who bring a string of boyfriends or girlfriends around are exposing their child to being a potential victim over and over again. As the facilitator of local Darkness to Light child abuse prevention seminars says, it's not that we believe there is a predator under every rock, but as parents we need to be more aware of the dangers so we can make better decisions for our kids' sake. To get you started, PLEASE read the 5 Steps to Protecting Our Children, linked at right.

It's 11:18 a.m. ... Do you know where your children are?


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