It's so important to talk to children about the dangers of abduction, but it's hard to know how far to go. You want your kids to be safe without making them paranoid. Kids are very innocent and trusting, so even after talking to them, it's hard to predict how children will react when approached by a kind stranger. Pedophiles are incredibly good with children and know how to approach them without being threatening.
The horror and tragedy of child abduction is an unfortunate constant in the news today. When I was a child growing up in the 70s, our parents told us never to take candy from strangers, or get into a car with someone we didn't know, but we were sheltered from what could happen if we did. We rarely saw these cases on the news, and when we did, it always seemed like a rare event. Little did we know.
The following is a close call I had in my own neighborhood when I was in the 4th grade. That's the day I learned just how devious monsters can be.
The One That Got Away
After my mom got remarried, we moved into a brand new house in an isolated subdivision in the summer of ’73. My mom was convinced that the city would eventually make its way out to us, and they’d be sitting on prime real estate. Whatever. I was getting ready to start the 4th grade, and all I cared about were my Barbies, playing outside with my friends, and riding my bike.
My mom’s rules were simple:
· Don’t go into anyone’s house
· Come inside when the street lights came on
· And if she came outside and looked down our street, she’d better be able to see me
The street lights came one way before the sun went down, but I knew better than to break the rules. I didn’t want to give her any reason to ground me, especially when summer was coming to an end. Normally, I dreaded going back to school, but this time, I was actually looking forward to it. We moved around a lot, so every year, I had to say goodbye to the friends I’d made, knowing I would most likely be going to a different school the next year. I always wondered what it would be like to actually have the same friends every year, and go to the same school, like they do on television.
That September, I quickly settled in to my new classroom, where I met my new best friend, Chris. She lived in the duplexes two streets over from my house. We rode the bus to and from school, and quickly became inseparable. The only downside to our friendship was that she didn’t live on my street. That meant that I couldn’t play with her after school. Like my mom, her mom confined her to their street as well.
We put our heads together and finally decided to be brave and ask our moms to let us hang out one Friday afternoon. We decided it might be best to have me come to her house. She said her mom probably wouldn’t agree to her coming to my house, but she might be okay with me coming over. I was afraid to tell her that my mom wouldn’t likely go for any of it.
That evening, I mustered all the courage I had and told my mom our grand plan. I had been talking about Chris almost constantly, so my mom already knew we were close.
“Ok,” she said.
“Ok? Ok?” I couldn’t believe she agreed to let me go.
“Here’s the deal. I have to talk to her mom first. You can go for exactly two hours, and then you come straight home. If you don’t follow those rules exactly, don’t ask to go again.”
I quickly agreed. I thought two hours was a bit short, but I wasn’t going to argue, since I didn’t think she’d let me go at all. I immediately called Chris, so our moms could finalize the details.
We were so excited; it’s all we could talk about on the bus the next morning. When Friday rolled around, we could barely stay seated on the way home. We kept talking about all the things we wanted to cram into our two hours. When she got off the bus, I waved and told her I would see her soon. She giggled and waved back.
I ran home and blasted through my homework. When I was finished, I told my mom I was ready to go. I nodded politely as she again reviewed the rules and the consequences, but my mind was already out the door. As soon as she finished, I ran down my street to the main road. I lived at the end of the block, so it was further than I liked to run, but I couldn’t wait to get to Chris’s house. I turned right and passed the first street. I was smiling like crazy when I got to the second street and turned. I could see Chris about halfway down the block, jumping up and down and waving her hands like mad. I started running again, and she came to meet me. We hugged and giggled, jumping and spinning together.
“C’mon!” she said, grabbing my hand.
She took me inside and introduced me to her mother before we barricaded ourselves in her room. We had the best time. We laughed and talked about Barbies and cute boys at school. Before we knew it, her mom was softly knocking on the door to remind me that my two hours were up. As much as I hated to go, we both knew that if we followed the rules, we would probably be able to do it again. Maybe next time, she could come to my house.
Chris went outside with me, and I walked backwards all the way to the corner of the main street, just so we could keep talking and waving. I didn’t turn around until I couldn’t see Chris anymore. Then I moped passed the first street. I wasn’t in any hurry to get home. When I reached my street, I turned to make the final trek to the end of our block.
My eyes were fixed on the sidewalk, as I kicked at small rocks. Our block was unusually quite. I looked up when I heard a car approaching. A large, white sedan crossed over and pulled up next to me on the sidewalk. The driver reached across the expanse of the bench seat to roll down the window on the passenger side. I bent at the waist when he said “Hi”, so I could get a better look at him. He was a nice looking, middle aged man with sandy blonde hair and a mustache.
He said “I’m so glad I found you. Your parents have been in a car accident, and they sent me to pick you up.” My blood ran cold. My mouth was dry, and it took a few minutes to process what he said.
Of course my mother had always told me never to get in a car with a stranger, but back in the 70s, there were no secret words between parents and kids to identify a safe person to ride with. No one ever told me that a person would lie to get you in a car. I just thought that advice was more for hitchhiking, or when some stranger offered you a ride home. Of course I would say no to that.
But this man was sent by my parents, who had been in a car accident. I didn’t know how badly they had been hurt. What if they were dead? What would I do?
Seeing the panic on my face, the man immediately set out to reassure me.
“It’s going to be ok,” he said in soothing tones. “Get in, and I’ll take you to them.”
I wanted to get in, but something stopped me. I stood up and took a step back. This made the man nervous, and he said we had to hurry. I glanced down the street and could see both of my parents’ cars parked in front of the house. They never parked in the driveway for some reason.
Confused, I looked back at the man and pointed towards my house. “I don’t understand. I can see my parents’ cars from here. How did they get in an accident?”
Without so much as another glance in my direction, the man stepped on the gas and took off, narrowly missing another car as he turned onto the main road without stopping. As I stood there, watching him leave, it finally dawned on me what had just happened. Terror overwhelmed me, and I started running for my house before I even realized what I was doing.
What if he came back? What if I couldn’t make it home in time? What if he caught me? If I could spare a breath, would anyone even hear me scream? My muscles and lungs were burning, but I didn’t stop until I was safely inside my house. I slammed the door behind me and locked it before collapsing on the cold tile. I curled up in a ball, shaking and crying uncontrollably, unable to catch my breath. My mom came running over to yell at me for slamming the door until she saw me. She crouched down beside me and waited for me to calm down, patiently listening while I told her the whole story in ragged pieces. She just held me there for a long time, crying with me. That night, as I hid under my covers, I thanked God that I had been able to get away from that monster. I also said a prayer for the next girl, who might not be so lucky.
For more information and guidelines on how to talk to your children about abduction, please see the following articles.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. Stay safe.