Monday, September 6, 2010

Close Calls: Abductions That Failed

by Julia Buckley
A girl in my town was abducted a couple of years ago. She was in her back yard playing, and a man came to the fence and asked if she'd like to see a puppy. He told her that her mom had said it was okay. The girl, who was six, agreed. He lifted her over the fence and put her into the back of his car, where he buckled her into a child seat. He drove her several miles into a different town before he pulled over and told her to get out. For whatever reason, the abduction had gone awry. The frightened girl went to a mail carrier and said she needed to get home.

Her parents had a couple of bad hours, but their story had a very happy ending.

My female students have harrowing stories, every year, about the people who follow them when they walk to school, when they get off the bus, when they're out with friends. Luckily they are all smart enough and old enough to know a suspicious character when they see one.

But I've been reflecting lately about how many abductions ALMOST happen. This had me thinking back to my own childhood. I still remember sitting with my dog in the parkway in front of my house, as a child of about ten or eleven, and watching a man stop his car and get out. He walked up to me and asked me about my dog: what breed she was, when we got her, whether I liked to pet her. He said he loved dogs and he just had to ask. At no point did I think he was anything but a dog lover. Eventually my mother's face appeared in the window; the man waved, got into his car, and drove away.

In retrospect, there is much that I suspect about that man's motives. It makes me wonder how close I came to the sort of nightmare many children endure.

There were other incidents, as well: people who offered me rides when I walked to school as a teenager. Because I was vain and wouldn't wear my glasses, I sometimes went close to the cars, thinking it was a friend who had pulled over. And then I'd run away when I realized it was a stranger--a supposedly well-meaning stranger.

Generally people don't attempt to abduct women in their forties, but last year a man who must have been seventy pulled up next to me as I walked to the store.

"Would you like a ride?" he asked.

I almost laughed. "No."

"It seems we're going in the same direction," he persisted. "I just thought I'd save you the trip."

"I don't know you," I said.

And then, to my utter shock, he moved up the block and began talking to another woman. I didn't even know what to make of that situation. Can that sort of thing ever be "innocent?" Was I to believe that he was just a friendly man looking to give another adult a ride?

In retrospect, the world seems full of shadows and near misses for which I suppose we must be grateful.

Does everyone have a near miss story?

(Disclosure: this is a reprint of an essay I wrote in 2009. In honor of Labor Day, I took a wee vacation from blogging duties and went to a movie with my husband. Please forgive in the spirit of the season, and definitely please leave your comments!)


Sandra Parshall said...

I don't know how any parent finds the courage to let a child out of the house unsupervised! Kids can't be warned often enough about the danger of letting strangers get too close. Julia, the guy who wanted to give you "a ride" sounds like he was reliving some kind of youthful fantasy.

I think you would find Laura Lippman's new book, I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE, engrossing. It's about the sole survivor of a nut case's abduction and killing spree. Told partly in flashbacks to the time she was with him and partly in the present, when the guy contacts her from prison in the hope of enlisting her help to avoid execution, it's chilling and thought-provoking.

Julia Buckley said...

Ironically, I'm a parent who keeps an unusually close eye on her children, but other parents view me as overprotective--and I see all sorts of children around my town walking alone, riding bikes alone, skateboarding in empty parking lots alone. I always wonder where their parents are and why they aren't worried.

And that book sounds fantastic. I'm going to look it up.

Barb Goffman said...

I had my own near abduction, though I didn't see it as such at the time. I was nine, maybe ten. I had just ridden my bike home from a friend's house a few blocks away. It was a weekday afternoon. The sun was still shining. And as I walked my bike up my driveway, a car pulled around the corner and a man called out to me, saying he had found a puppy, and he was trying to find its owner. Did I know anyone who had lost a puppy? He probably hoped I'd come up to the car to see the supposed puppy. But being a practical child, I said I was sorry and didn't know anyone who had lost a puppy. I turned my back on him, put my bike in the garage, then went inside the house. A few minutes later I asked my mom if she knew anyone who had lost a puppy. On hearing my story, she ran out the front door, but the man was gone.

Mom told several people about that incident (but not, oddly, the police - this was the late '70s; she might have called them today), and at the time, I thought she was being melodramatic (which she often was). But now, thinking back on it, it truly was a close call.

-Barb Goffman

Julia Buckley said...

Barb, that is chilling. And it's common knowledge today that the puppy or kitten lure, or the candy lure, is very commonly used by pedophiles seeking child victims.

But in the 1970s, I don't really know that people talked about "stranger danger" issues. I doubt my mother even remembers the incident with the "dog lover" who visited me, but if she did I'd love to ask her what she thought of him at the time.

Barb Goffman said...

Julia, you should ask her.

Julia Buckley said...

I shall do so!

Grace Topping said...

When I was in the first grade (in 1953), I used to walk to my grandparents house for lunch. On the way back, two other classmates and I had to pass a rather seedy bar and grill. One day, three men were sitting in their car with their car doors open. One of them told us that they would give us a dime if we went with them. We took off for school, knowing that we would be in big trouble with the nuns if we didn't get back for class. I think our guardian angels were with us that day.