Stranger Danger: Toddlers & Teens, Part 1 - - Texoma news, weather and sports

KTEN News Special Assignment Report

Stranger Danger: Toddlers & Teens, Part 1


An update on our award-winning Special Assignment Report, "Stranger Danger."

Is your child safe from predators at the park? Are your teens safe from online solicitations?

Watch as our stranger, KTEN News photographer Dave Potter, strolls near the playground with a puppy. Within minutes, 3-year-old Shawn Barber is ready to play.      

"This young man obviously thinks this puppy is neat, and playing with the dog and seeing the dog...certainly we want our children to be friendly and not afraid of strangers so much, but they don't need to be engaging in contact and conversations with strangers," said Cpl. Ryan Hunnicutt of the Ardmore Police Department.

Corporal Hunnicutt watched from his unmarked patrol car and narrated for us using an undercover camera.

"This is the situation where the parents would come over and introduce themselves," Hunnicutt said.

"Now things have started to change a little bit, we've gone from your child is going up and engaging the man and his dog in conversation to a situation where the stranger and the dog are leading your child somewhere."

Just minutes after introducing himself, our stranger is on the way to a van with 3-year-old Shawn.    

"This would be something that would be very concerning to a parent.   This child keeps looking back for approval but it's not slowing him down any.   He is still willing to go over to the van..this would be considered very, risky..very dangerous," Hunnicutt said.

What happens next is even more dangerous.

"And he's opening the door, he's got the kid right into the car. This would be very easy at this point for a potential predator to kidnap your child and you wouldn't even know it."

Before Dave headed toward the playground, we talked with Shawn's grandmother, and she agreed to participate.   However, she says she was still startled when her grandson climbed into the van.   

"It hurt me to see this one getting into the van..I wanted to grab him, but he's still little and we are still in training," said Joyce Turner.

His older brother, Ethan, is 6-years-old, and he did not go with our stranger.    

"They told us at school if someone comes up here and says I lost my dog or something, they say hop in...if you get in the car they're just going to take off with you.   That's why I never talk to strangers," Ethan Barber said.

Another child who refused to go with Dave was 5-year-old Adam Sabangan. His mother says she's relieved her son did not go, but she was able to watch as Shawn climbed inside.    

"When that little boy got into the car my heart just sank, I couldn't believe it," Gratiela Sabangan said. "So the lesson for me is that even if you do tell them, because the grandma has of course talked to them about it, you still do need to watch them and protect them at their little age"

Corporal Hunnicutt says the best way to prevent your child from being to be involved... Talking to them about strangers is not enough.    

"What you want to watch for is when the stranger starts to dictate the behavior of the child, leading them somewhere, overly engaging them in conversation.   That's when it's time to come over and talk to your kid, talk to stranger, introduce yourself and prevent any type of problem," Hunnicutt said.

Here are some other tips:

  • First off, it's never too early to talk to your children about strangers.
  • Tell them never to leave with a stranger, even if that stranger promises it will be fun.
  • Always walk with a friend or adult.
  • Teach your child to run and scream if someone tries to follow them or force them into a vehicle.

Good advice for young children, but what about young teens. The way predators approach them is different, but the outcome can be just as devastating.

As children age, the Internet can become their social network, but it opens the door for predators to make their way directly into your home.

Statistics show one in five children have already been solicited online, but some parents still say, "No, not in my home."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michele Ratcliffe works in Plano and Sherman, "This is extremely widespread.  It's a problem that is growing everyday and it's growing and reaching into every socioeconomic population base that we have in north Texas and across the country."

As a result, Project Safe Childhood was launched. Its goal: to protect children from online solicitation.

But according to Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas Michele Ratcliffe, prevention starts at home, by monitoring your children online.

In Part Two: tips on how to keep your children safe.

Jocelyn Lockwood, KTEN News.

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