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June 10, 2014 7:14 am

EDITORIAL: False child abduction attempt report hurts the entire community

Written by Ilene Olson

The news last week that a reported child abduction attempt actually never took place was a welcome relief to the entire Powell community.

That was particularly true for parents who had worried about their children’s safety, and to law enforcement personnel who had searched diligently for the man whom two 12-year-old girls claimed tried to abduct them on May 28.

The incident prompted the activation of emergency notification systems for the Powell School District and at Northwest College. Both sent text notifications and telephone calls advising parents about the reported abduction attempt near the college campus.

The girls’ report, which they later said was untrue, also served as a reminder of the importance of talking to our children and grandchildren about being careful around strangers and how to stay safe.

As Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt said, “We’re all relieved this didn’t happen. However, let’s not ignore the opportunity to have the discussion.”

That discussion could include talking about who are trusted adults, where children can find safe places and what to do if their cell phone doesn’t work. Go out in pairs or groups. Never accept a ride from a stranger. Develop and practice a safety plan.

Those are important precautions for parents and children to take to ensure kids’ safety.  

While we’re grateful that the girls eventually told the truth that no abduction attempt occurred, they also need to understand the cost of their false report.

That includes not only the man-hours spent by city and county law enforcement personnel who interviewed the girls and searched for the reported abductor, but also the emotional price paid by parents and children whose sense of safety and security were yanked out from underneath them.

Their false report also could shed doubt on any future reports of attempted abduction, even if they eventually prove to be genuine — though we fervently hope that never happens again. The “Boy Who Cried Wolf” comes to mind.

We are thankful that Eckerdt sees the need for taking all reports seriously.

“We will treat every case like this, as it’s real, until we find out differently,” he said. “The cost, and the risk, is far too high to make any assumptions.”

We urge parents, grandparents, guardians, sitters and neighbors to take appropriate precautions and actions to keep children safe. But we also recognize that our fears of child abduction by strangers often are disproportionate to its actual occurrence nationwide.

In an online ehistory report, Paula Fass of Ohio State University wrote that America’s fear of child abduction began in 1874 when the kidnapping of Charles Brewster Ross, a child of wealthy parents, gained national attention in newspapers.

But Fass wrote that today, by far, most child abductions are perpetrated by non-custodial parents.

“Today, children abducted by strangers represent a very small fraction of abductions — successful abductions affect between 100 and 150 children every year,” Fass wrote. “This is hardly a trivial matter to those directly involved, but the perceived threat to children is far greater than the number of children affected.”

Here in Park County, however, many people’s fears of child abduction are rooted in tragic events that occurred in Powell and Cody. Just last year, Jesse Speer of Manhattan, Mont., was sentenced to life in prison for abducting an 11-year-old girl in Cody in October 2012. We’re thankful the girl survived the abduction and was able to help law enforcement identify Speer and put him behind bars.

In 1998, 8-year-old Christin Lamb wasn’t so lucky. She was murdered by a man in her grandparents’ neighborhood here in Powell. Her murderer, James Eric Peterson, also was sent to prison for life.

For families and friends of both victims, and for the families and friends of others who have disappeared or were abducted and murdered, the incident perpetrated May 28 surely was a cruel form of emotional torture.

For that, if nothing else, the girls who made the false report should be held accountable. An appropriate punishment — community service, perhaps — for the pain they caused seems proper and deserved.

Still, we encourage parents and caregivers to not let the incident discourage them from enjoying the summer or allowing children to recreate outside, to romp in parks and on playgrounds, to ride their bicycles and to play together, while still taking precautions for their safety. That is an important part of childhood and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Childhood happens only once. It should be enjoyed — safely — by all.

2 comments

  • Comment Link June 11, 2014 5:58 am posted by Calvin Sanders

    As a parent, I find it very hard to secure the safety of my children. I am a father of two lovely daughters. Both go to high school. I can't be with them every single time. Me and my wife go to work everyday. It's hard to be certain about their whereabouts and situation. Good thing I discovered this amazing application installed on my children's phones. It has a panic button that my children will press in case of an emergency. As simple as that it will automatically be connected to a 24/7 Response center and if needed, your call can be escalated to the nearest 911 Station. Me, along with my wife and close friends as my children's safety network, will be notified also through text message or a conference call. I worry less. This can help you too. Just visit their site to know more about this:http://safekidzone.com/#!/page_home

  • Comment Link June 11, 2014 12:45 pm posted by bt

    They need to do some community service and pay back some of the $$ the city of powell spent on this.

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