My heart is heavy tonight. I have spent a lot of time on the road working this past week and listen to news radio often. I spent many hours listening to the news of the disappearance of Jessica Ridgway, a 10 year old little girl from Colorado who was abducted. She left her house for school walking three blocks to meet up with her friends. She never made it. THREE BLOCKS. And today, a positive ID has been made on the body that was found a few days ago. A sweet life cut short by someone very disturbed.
80 percent of child abductions by strangers occur within a quarter mile of the child's home. This is a statistic reported on the site www.laws.com in their guide to child abduction statistics. My husband used to call me neurotic when I refused to ever let my girls walk to the bus stop at the end of our street, one half block from our front door. If they were playing out front, I was watching. My mother in law always teased me that I never let them out of my sight. It was always my greatest fear: what Jessica Ridgway's parents are enduring right now. The horror and agony of losing their precious child.
This weeks issue of People magazine features an article titled "When loved ones vanish: Inside 4 unsolved mysteries." 3 of the 4 persons the article covers are children, all missing without a trace. It's hard to say if it's better to know what happened to your child then to always wonder? Both situations are living nightmares. Would you want to have the closure of knowing your child was murdered or not know where they are?
Why do these parents have to be in this situation at all? In Jessica's case there had been other abduction attempts in the area as early as the day before she went missing. Why weren't these reported to schools, etc? Perhaps if they had been, parents including Jessica's mother may have not allowed her to walk alone. Where is our system falling through the cracks?
As a child, I was terrified of strangers. It had nothing to do with anything in particular other than I suffer from GAD (or generalized anxiety disorder). As a parent, this anxiety spilled over onto my children as I mentioned above, never letting them out of my sight. But is this the way everyone should be living? Afraid to let our children gain any independence as they grow up? Afraid if we turn our backs for a split second they will disappear?
I believe it's going to have to be up to our schools and law enforcement agencies to better educate our children and their parents on how to protect themselves. There are programs out there that need to be utilized more but it all begins in the home.
Earlier this year, an attempted abduction in an Atlanta Wal-Mart gained national attention. A 7 year old girl was successful in fighting off her attempted abductor as she screamed and kicked. This child was obviously taught what to do if this situation ever occurred. Every child needs to be taught these strategies. Every parent needs to be aware of the possibility that it can happen ANYWHERE, ANYTIME.
Our neighborhoods, no matter how safe we may feel they are, are simply not immune to predators. It could be a neighbor, friend or someone that works in the area. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited children, teaching about "strander danger" is not always effective. It's not always a stranger that is the culprit.
There are many sites on the internet that offer basic safety tips to teach your children. Here is one that offers some very good advice.
My own advice is to never think that it won't happen to you or your child. Jessica's mother kissed her daughter good-bye and sent her off to walk three blocks believing she would be safe. Perhaps Jessica did not know what the warning signs were. Perhaps she was lured by the predator and was too innocent to understand what was happening.
It's an awful world we live in when a child can't go three blocks from home without being abducted and murdered. So, teach your children well. It could save their life and a lifetime of agony for you.