As parents, we can’t help but be rattled by crimes against children. Even more disturbing is when those crimes are seemingly random acts of violence perpetuated by total strangers. “Could that happen to my kid?” you wonder, immediately thereafter rushing to assure yourself that, of course, it couldn’t… could it?
What happened to Hailey Owens is a prime example of this random horror. Hailey, 10, was snatched off a Springfield, Missouri street just blocks from her home late Tuesday afternoon, the Associated Press reported. Her kidnapper pulled up to her in a pick-up truck and, according to a witness, asked her for directions.
One witness took down the man’s license plate number and provided it to police, while another witness reportedly tried to chase down the man’s car, but it was too late. Hours later, police found Owens’ body in a private home and arrested the man living there, Craig Michael Wood, a seventh-grade football coach.
There’s no way to make sense of a crime like this, but the case can at least serve to remind parents of basic safety measures they can take to keep their own children away from predators.
“Educating your children about safety is the most important thing you can do,” said T.J. Ward, private investigator of Investigative Consultants International* and father of two. Check out Ward’s safety tips below.
Remind Them (Constantly) to Keep Away From Strangers
Ward told me that one of the simplest things you can do is to warn your children repeatedly to never go near strangers when they’re outside by themselves. Strangers calling out to children from their cars, as Wood allegedly did, are especially dangerous, Ward said.
The “stranger danger” mantra is by now a cliché — and often, a punchline — but Ward said kids and teenagers must be reminded to stay away from strangers every time they leave the house.
“It has to be something that they remember,” he said.
Get Attention with a Whistle
Another surprisingly powerful defense against stranger abductions? Whistles. Buy them for about $6 at your uniform supply store, and urge your children to wear them, at least on their keychains.
“Tell them, ‘If anyone approaches you and you’re in fear, I want you to blow this whistle. You’re going to get somebody’s attention, somewhere,'” he said. “Whistles are loud … you’re probably going to freak the guy out trying to kidnap you too.”
Take Advantage of GPS Technology
According to a probable cause statement released by police, Hailey was holding a cell phone at the time of the kidnapping. It hasn’t been reported whether the cell phone helped police in their investigation, but Ward said that it is good to equip kids with mobile phones. Not only can police use GPS to track mobile phones, but if a child is locked in a trunk or elsewhere, she may be able to call 911 on her own.
Worried that your son or daughter will get too distracted by a cell phone? If you can afford them, Ward recommends buying GPS trackers than can be attached to backpacks.
Enroll Your Child in Defense Classes
Another step parents can take that falls into the if-you-can-afford-it category: placing your children in martial arts classes or classes specifically designed to teach self-defense against would-be kidnappers.
“A child should learn to fight back, then run away,” Ward said.
But he stressed that it’s more important for children to maintain their distance from strangers so they won’t need to use those defensive skills in the first place.
Will the Hailey Owens case affect how you approach keeping your kids safe? At the very least, Ward’s advice is encouraging me to talk more with my children about strangers, especially as they grow older. I don’t want to frighten them, but I do want them to be prepared.
*Disclaimer: T.J. Ward is not associated with this case and was contacted by the author for the purposes of this post.
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