BRIGHTON, Colo. - The attempted abduction of a Brighton girl walking to South Elementary on Tuesday morning had parents anxious as they picked up their kids from school in the afternoon.
"I'm just a little edgy now when I see cars that I've never seen around my neighborhood," a student's mother, Joann Gonzalez, told 7NEWS reporter Lance Hernandez.
The girl told police she was walking near South Second Avenue and Mather Street when a man driving a red or maroon four-door car began following her. The man then pulled up and told her to get into the car.
The girl ran to South Elementary at 305 S. Fifth Ave. and reported the incident, and police were called about 8:25 a.m., police said.
The man was described as wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt. The girl said the suspect's red or maroon car had a black coloring near its rear end.
School district officials sent telephone alerts and letters home to students' parents and guardian about the incident.
Maria Caddick, who was picking up her grandchildren, said she'd received a school district telephone alert.
What did it make her think?
"Don't get too comfortable. Just in a split second, your kid can be gone," Caddick said.
Ellen Stout, who was also picking up her grandchildren, said people won't feel safe until police arrest the man who abducted and killed 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway as she walked to her Westminster school on Oct. 5.
"I got a pen ready and I got paper ready to take down license plates if anything suspicious comes up," Stout said.
The grandmother said it's hard not to think the Brighton incident may be linked to the Ridgeway slaying.
"It could be a copy cat, or he could have switched a car and be staking out somebody else. We don't know," Stout said.
Brighton police said officers are working to develop investigative leads on the incident, and have increased patrols around area schools.
Police said anyone observing suspicious activity should call 911. Police also asked anyone with information about this incident to call the Brighton Police Department tip-line at 303-655-8740.
School officials sent the following letter home with students on Tuesday:
Good afternoon 27J parents and guardians:
This email is to inform you that this morning a student from South Elementary in Brighton reported that a man in a red car asked her to get in his vehicle as she walked to school. She ran to school and reported the incident. Police were immediately called and are continuing their investigation.
The safety of our students is our utmost priority and we will continue to work with our police departments to ensure the safety of all our students.
If you have any information about this incident or any other suspicious activity, please contact the Brighton Police Department at 303-655-2300 We appreciate your assistance in keeping children safe.
7NEWS learned about this attempted abduction from a news tip. If you have a news tip, please email us at newstips@thedenverchannel.
What to tell your children
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) said approximately 35 percent of attempted abductions of children occurred when the child was going to and from school or school-related activities.
A seven year study by NCMEC showed that the children who were successful in escaping an attempted abduction did the following:
- 53 percent walked or ran away from the suspect
- 28 percent yelled, kicked, pulled away or attracted attention
- 19 percent involved a good Samaritan or parent rescuing the child
"We know that teaching children about safety makes a difference, and we encourage parents and guardians to talk to their children so they know what to do in a real life situation," said John Ryan, CEO of NCMEC. "Teach your children to recognize and get out of dangerous or uncomfortable situations right away and practice basic safety skills with them."
So what can do you?
NCMEC suggests the following:
- Teach your older children to always take a friend with them when walking or biking, and stay with a group while standing at the bus stop. Make sure they know which bus to ride.
- Walk the route to and from school with your children, pointing out landmarks and safe places to go if they’re being followed or need help. Teach your children they should never take shortcuts and always stay in well-lit areas.
- Even though there may be more safety in numbers, it is still not safe for younger children to walk to and from school, especially if they must take isolated routes anytime during the day or in darkness. Always provide supervision for your young children to help ensure their safe arrival to and from school.
- Teach your children that if anyone bothers them, makes them feel scared or uncomfortable, they should trust their feelings and immediately get away from that person. Teach them it is ok not to be polite and it is ok to say no.
- Teach your children that if anyone tries to take them somewhere, they should resist by kicking and screaming, trying to run away and drawing attention – and saying “This person is trying to take me away” or “This person is not my father/mother.”
- Teach your children not to accept a ride from anyone unless you have said it is ok in that instance. If anyone follows them in a vehicle, they should turn around, go in the other direction, and run to a trusted adult who may help them.
- Teach your children that grownups should not ask children for directions, they should ask other adults.
- Teach your children to never accept money or gifts from anyone unless you have told them it is ok to accept in each instance.