Remind children about ‘stranger danger’

Published 9:53 am Wednesday, July 14, 2010

“Suspicious” is one word to describe what happened in Opp Monday where a 10-year-old child reported being offered a ride by a strange man.

I’ve got another word – “scary.”

Opp Chief Nicky Carnley had it right when he said we could only guess at the motivation behind the incident law enforcement termed as a “suspicious circumstance.”

At any time of the day, we can flip to a news channel or a printed page for the latest on nationwide “suspicious circumstances” that ended tragically.

Luckily for that child’s family and for Covington County, Monday’s situation had a positive ending.

It’s not always so.

Statistics show that a child goes missing every 40 seconds in the United States. That’s more than 2,100 a day or 800,000 each year. Of those, 50 percent are aged 4-11. Strangers are credited with committing 53 percent of child abductions that end tragically. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 74 percent of tragic outcomes after a child abduction occurred within three hours of being taken. One study of missing children statistics and stranger abductions showed that 44 percent of the cases ended tragically within the first hour. By the third hour, it was 74 percent, and within 24 hours, 91 percent.

Right now, I – like most parents – am 100 percent freaked out.

When my oldest was about 3, she wandered away from our side in Wal-Mart – one of those “I thought you had her” situations. It was at the old Wal-Mart building, and I was at the jewelry counter while her father was browsing music. Only about two feet separated the two of us, and she was steadily going back and forth between us. In about two minutes, we realized she was gone.

I can still remember how the blind panic crawled up the back of my throat, and the shaking in my hands.

Store officials called a “Code Adam” and shut Wal-Mart down.

It took about 15 minutes, but we finally found her playing in the middle of a fabric rack in the craft section. Luckily, the clerk heard her giggling to herself.

That was the longest 15 minutes of my life.

I can’t imagine the suffering parents must face when dealing with five, 10 or even 15 years of not knowing what happened to their child.

I bet if we were to ask the parents of Opp’s Kimberly Ramer, they would have a word.

“Excruciating” or “devastating” comes to mind.

I hope parents read today’s story and realize the importance of the “stranger danger” talk. Make sure your kids know what to do when something like this happens to them. Make sure they know what to do if your family becomes separated. Make sure they know their name, their address, their parents’ names and their telephone number.

If there is anything we take away from this, it’s this – we are not immune. One of us or someone we love could become a statistic.