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Child Safety Situation #8

Girl, 9 years old; abducted from her neighborhood by a convicted sexual predator.

Several times during a morning in 1994, Mrs. Stewart* glanced out the window to look at her 9-year-old daughter playing. "This is a nice neighborhood we've moved to," she thought. "I am so glad I don't have to worry about gangs and street violence here."

Jennifer* was in the large yard when a man across the street called out to her, "Hi, new neighbor, would you like to see my new puppies?" Jennifer looked both ways just like she was supposed to, before she crossed the street and followed him into his house.

When Jennifer's mom called her in for lunch, Jennifer did not come. "She must not have heard me," thought Mrs. Stewart. She walked outside to get her, but Jennifer was nowhere in sight. Getting a little concerned, Mrs. Stewart ran up her block, calling "Jennifer, Jennifer, where are you?" She rang doorbells at the houses where toys and bicycles let her know children lived, thinking "Maybe she went looking for a playmate." Mrs. Stewart did not know it then, but the neighbor across the street was a convicted sexual predator. The police very soon focused on him.

In 1997, Mrs. Stewart's neighbor was found guilty of raping and murdering Jennifer, and was sentenced to death.

What can you learn from Jennifer's story to make you more predator resistant?

May I Visit:
Never go into anyone's house without your parent's permission to go into that person's house that day. Remember, it's harder to get out of an enclosed space than an open space. If Jennifer had run home to ask her mother, her mother might have gone with her to see the puppies. Or, she would have said "No" and that would be that for the time being at least. If Jennifer's mother had made the mistake of saying "Yes," the neighbor would, at least, know that her mother knew where she was. When Jennifer did not come back right away, her mother would have gone to get her and might have gotten there before Jennifer was killed.

Say "No":
Snow White made a big mistake when she accepted the gift of a poisoned apple. The Trojans were tricked into bringing a large, wooden horse into their fort: it looked like a great gift, but armed enemies filled its belly. Joe tricked Mary into thinking he had something good for her -- new puppies for her to play with. Remember, the invisible strings often attached to gifts can strangle you.

ID Predators:
You have a right to know who the convicted sexual predators living in your neighborhood are. Then, you will not make the mistake of letting them babysit your kids or take your kids camping. If Mrs. Stewart had known a convicted child molester lived across the street, his house would have been off limits for Jennifer. Check to see if your state has an online registered sex offender registry. If your state does not have an online registry, go to your local police department. If children know what the predators in their neighborhood look like, they can run if they see them. Sexual predators are like vampires: they suck the innocence and vitality from our children. As vampires are said to cast no reflection in a mirror, we see people as sexual predators only when we know what they have done.

Lock Back Up:
Like a silver bullet stops a werewolf, parents and kids can put an end to sexual predators' prowling their neighborhood by helping send them back to jail. One of the common conditions for parole for a pedophile is that he cannot be in areas where children congregate. If any parent or child spots a registered sexual predator lurking around schools or parks, odds are he is violating his parole. Call the police and ask them to stake out the area. If they catch him where he is not supposed to be, his parole can be revoked, and he can be sent back to prison to complete his sentence. In some states, like Florida, harassing or stalking children is a separate crime for which predators can be tried and, if convicted, given more jail time.

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*Names changed to protect privacy; information presented for educational purposes only. Reprinted with permission from The Jimmy Ryce Center.

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