A time for extra vigilance

Published 9:14 pm Saturday, October 5, 2013

At the time this editorial was penned on Saturday afternoon, a dangerous creep remained on the loose, perhaps still lurking in the Isle of Wight-Suffolk area after abducting and sexually assaulting an 11-year-old Carrollton girl Wednesday morning.

The Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Department, in cooperation with Suffolk police, has done an outstanding job of releasing detailed information about the assailant to area citizens, who are the key to getting him apprehended and behind bars. The more people know, the more likely they are to recognize him and alert law enforcement of his location.

Here’s what we know so far based on the victim’s description of her attacker: He’s a white man of medium build, in his 40s or 50s, about 5 feet 8 inches tall and 175 pounds. His hair is short and blond, but not a buzz cut, and he wears a thin blond beard containing white whiskers — in a strip from his temples across his chin — and no mustache.

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He has bushy blond eyebrows, blue eyes, large full lips, teeth that are slightly yellowed, a wide nose, small hands with short fingers, and freckles covering his entire face and body. He wore small, round, brown eyeglasses low on his nose, cut-off blue jean shorts, a tan T-shirt and brown and blue tennis shoes. The girl did not see any tattoos or piercings.

He was a nonsmoker, a slow speaker, and his white Chevrolet coupe had a Virginia state inspection sticker, a Chevy sticker on the front windshield, black and gray interior, leather or vinyl seats and manual roll-up windows.

She said the car’s interior looked old, with some pieces missing from a section of cracked dash, but the outside of the car was newer-looking. Inside the car were three homemade clay sculptures — one star-shaped and painted with black stripes and the others green and pink, perhaps made by children.

Anyone with information is asked to call 365-6290 or email tips@iwus.net.

Meantime, parents should be extra cautious in keeping their kids out of harm’s way. The National Crime Prevention Council offers some good advice, especially in teaching kids to distinguish between “good strangers” and “bad strangers”:

It’s common for children to think that “bad strangers” look scary, like the villains in cartoons. This is not only not true, but it’s dangerous for children to think this way. Pretty strangers can be just as dangerous as the not-so-pretty ones. When you talk to your children about strangers, explain that no one can tell if strangers are nice or not nice just by looking at them and that they should be careful around all strangers.

But don’t make it seem like all strangers are bad. If children need help — whether they’re lost, being threatened by a bully, or being followed by a stranger — the safest thing for them to do in many cases is to ask a stranger for help. You can make this easier for them by showing them which strangers are OK to trust.

Safe strangers are people children can ask for help when they need it. Police officers and firefighters are two examples of very recognizable safe strangers. Teachers, principals and librarians are adults children can trust, too, and they are easy to recognize when they’re at work. But make sure that you emphasize that whenever possible, children should go to a public place to ask for help.

Perhaps the most important way parents can protect their children is to teach them to be wary of potentially dangerous situations — this will help them when dealing with strangers as well as with known adults who may not have good intentions. Help children recognize the warning signs of suspicious behavior, such as when an adult asks them to disobey their parents or do something without permission, asks them to keep a secret, asks for help, or makes them feel uncomfortable in any way. Also tell your children that an adult should never ask a child for help, and if one does ask for their help, teach them to find a trusted adult right away to tell what happened.

You should also talk to your children about how they should handle dangerous situations. One ways is to teach them “No, Go, Yell, Tell.” If in a dangerous situations, kids should say no, run away, yell as loud as they can, and tell a trusted adult what happened right away. Make sure that your children know that it is OK to say no to an adult in a dangerous situation and to yell to keep themselves safe, even if they are indoors. It’s good to practice this in different situations so that your children will feel confident in knowing what to do.