By Chet Greason
There has been concern about the risk of child abduction in St. Marys after a handful of incidents, two of which were addressed by the OPP in a release to the public.
The first occurred on Dec. 8 when a 9-year-old boy reported being approached by an older man with a deep voice and average build, who offered the boy a ride home in his dark-coloured SUV. The boy told police that when he refused, the man left the vehicle and grabbed the boy by the shoulders. The boy then ran home. This incident was reported to have occurred around Station and Church Street.
The story was circulated via local media, and was also picked up by CBC and CTV. At the time, OPP said they were investigating the incident.
Since then, no new details have come forth, although speculation has been rampant on social media. Perth OPP media liaison officer Constable Laura Lee Brown is hesitant to comment upon the status of the investigation as it involves children, saying only, “If an update is available, the report would go out.”
“Be assured, if there was a serious risk to public safety present, we wouldn’t waste time in sharing it with the public,” she tells the Independent. “It may appear at times that we’re not giving out information, but there’s a reason for that.”
She says the OPP walks a fine line between informing residents of potential danger and inciting undue panic. Social media often exacerbates this balance.
“If there is a legitimate concern, we will come out and say it,” she adds.
That’s what the OPP did a week ago when another suspicious incident was reported to them, this one regarding an unknown man and woman in a four-door dark-coloured car speaking with children in the Elgin and Huron Street area.
In this instance, Brown stresses that the couple had thick accents, and the children were not able to discern the nature of the conversation. She acknowledges that the couple could have been asking for directions just as easily as they could have been trying to coerce the children to get into their vehicle.
“We can’t confirm what the conversation was about,” she says.
The OPP still used the incident as an opportunity to circulate information regarding stranger safety to area schools. A media release was also circulated.
One area father posted a story to Facebook saying his daughter experienced a suspicious incident where it appeared she was being followed by a middle-aged woman in a white late-model van in the Parkview Drive area. He says that the incident happened on Dec. 21 and was reported to Perth OPP on Dec. 23. His daughter says she again spotted the woman in the van near the Thomas Street carwash on Jan. 19.
Brown confirmed that the report was made to her detachment and the incident was investigated. She urged area parents to report suspicious incidents to them as soon as they’re made aware of them.
“The importance of reporting suspicious incidents immediately to the police cannot be emphasized enough,” she says. “Any delay can create significant challenges when attempting to identify a suspicious person or vehicle.”
Brown also stressed that parents should speak to their children about interacting with strangers, and let their kids know that they should report any suspicious incidents to their parents immediately.
“Talk regularly with your children about strangers and the importance of telling a trusted adult immediately whenever they feel uncomfortable or unsafe.”
On Feb. 7, a letter was circulated to parents from Little Falls Public School principal Erin Cassone about a new incident that had taken place that morning. This one involved a person in a car (gender and vehicle description not included) approaching and then yelling at a small group of students on Meadowridge Drive at 8:50 a.m.
Cassone wrote that the incident was reported to the Perth OPP, who are investigating. Brown confirmed this.
Tips for speaking to your children about stranger danger
Constable Laura Lee Brown provided the Independent with the following tips should parents wish to discuss stranger safety with their children:
• Street Safety
– When walking to and from school or other locations, encourage children to take the same route each time, and know which route this is.
– The Buddy System. There is safety in numbers. Bring a buddy with you when you go places.
– If asked to go somewhere, make sure you have permission from your parent/guardian before you go.
– When walking to a friend’s house, call your parent/guardian to let them know you’ve arrived safely. Call your parent/guardian before you leave to let them know you are on your way home.
– Be aware of the safe places you can go to for help within your community.
• Internet Safety
– Remember, the Internet is a public place.
– It is easy to lose control of what you send to people.
– Be careful what you share with people.
– Protect your personal information.
– Always check with your parent/guardian first before sending any photographs, or using the webcam.
– Always check with your parent/guardian first before meeting up with someone you first met online.
– Remember: meet in a public place and bring a safe adult with you.
– Always trust your instincts. If something doesn’t seem right or makes you uncomfortable, speak to a safe adult.
• Public Place Safety
– If separated from your parent/guardian, stay in the building until you are reunited.
– If separated from your parent/guardian, go to a sales person to ask for help.
– If anyone tries to take you out of the building, yell and make noise.
– Use the Buddy System. Avoid separating and leaving one person alone.
– Always have permission from your parent/guardian before going anywhere with anyone.
• Home Safety
– Keep all emergency phone numbers by the telephone.
– Keep doors and windows locked. Only open the door for people you are expecting and have permission to have over.
– When answering the phone, always pretend a parent/guardian is home. For example, “My mom is busy right now but I can take a message.”
– Keep phone conversations with your friends short, so the phone line is not busy, in case someone needs to contact you.
– Do not discuss in public or online that you will be home alone.