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SEPTEMBER 2002
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The School Bus Stop

Child Predator Hunting Grounds?

Are some communities becoming a world where the most dangerous stranger can be someone you know, the most remote place can be found in the middle of a crowd, and the safest place for kids is behind prison walls? This story looks at how child predators are turning some communities into places of terror and what can be done to help end the harm predators cause.

About the author: Helping to save one child's life is a monumental task James Kraemer takes seriously. His popular school bus safety Web sites consume an average four hours each day of volunteer time, up to seven days a week. Kraemer, a veteran school bus driver and founder of 2safeschools.org, is a member of the National Safety Council and author of the book, "Dangerous School Buses - What school bus drivers, school staff and parents must know to help keep kids safe," expected to be published in 2003. Kraemer often presents unique opinions that can sometimes be in conflict with school bus industry and related government agencies views. The opinions expressed in his commentaries are his own and are not necessarily those of 2safeschools sponsorships or other participants related to 2safeschools school bus safety education activities.

By James Kraemer
©2002, All Rights Reserved. May be reprinted with permission from 2safeschools.

The Department of Justice estimates there are up to 4600 stranger abductions per year.

One study of 621 stranger abductions ending in murder showed that 44 percent of the children were killed within the first hour. By the third hour, it was 74 percent, and within 24 hours, 91 percent.

An abduction that caught the interest of the nation's press demonstrates the increasing danger to school children.

The Oregon City [Oregon] Beavercreek Road school bus stop location, for the late Ashley Pond and Miranda Gaddis, is one example of what can happen when kids are left to walk to and from their bus stop with no adult supervision.

The press reported that 12-year-old Ashley Pond was last seen walking to her school bus stop on January 9, 2002, and Miranda Gaddis (13) had breakfast in her kitchen on March 8th before leaving for the same bus stop.

The area by the bus stop includes businesses, homes and a busy road. Yet, these kids - like so many - remained vulnerable to the desires of a child predator.

Eleven sex offenders lived within two miles of the bus stop. In the end Ward Weaver (39), a neighbor living near the bus stop and not a registered sex offender, is expected to be charged with these crimes.

The most dangerous stranger can be someone you know. Both girls bodies were found in Weavers back yard, one in a shed and the other found in a barrow buried under a cement slab.

Parents and schools alike rely on ''The Buddy System,'' thinking this will keep kids safe. Children (and parents and schools) might feel safer when kids travel in pairs. Regardless, this system is a weak protective strategy, especially when realizing that predators have now become so bold as to grab one or both kids in full daylight.

According to Ken Wooden, Child Lures Prevention, ''In many instances, sisters, brothers and playmates have been victims of terrible crimes when together.''

Predators are taking extreme risks to get at kids, so much so that parents can no longer cover every risk to their childrens' safety.

In Portland, Oregon, just recently, KATU 2 News reported that an 8-year-old girl was raped in her own home after a man broke into her bedroom through a window. Investigating the attack became more complicated when a KATU investigation learned there are 90 registered sex offenders within a 20 block radius of the little girl's Gresham home.


''It takes five seconds for an abductor to take a child into a car and be out of the area.''
--Ken Wooden,
Child Lures Prevention

Predators looking for less risk have figured out that school bus stops make for ideal hunting grounds.

The very young can be found standing by themselves in the dark while waiting for their school bus. On the trip home a child can be sent off the bus even when the bus driver knows something is different that day, and even when the child insists something is wrong.

Wooden says, ''It takes five seconds for an abductor to take a child into a car and be out of the area.''

There are certainly abduction prevention strategies kids can be trained to use -- of those kids that escape their 'would be' abductors, a common thread is that they immediately scream, bite, kick and run.

The thought that it is safer during daylight hours has become a myth in some communities.

On July 30, 2002, in Warren Township, Ohio, shortly after a 10-year-old schoolgirl left the school bus at her bus stop two men approached her in a small, white vehicle and told her to get in the car. The girl ran away and the car drove off. The incident was reported to police, said the Tribune Chronicle.

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On May 17, 2002, the Oregonian reported a man apparently tried to kidnap a 6-year-old Troutdale (Oregon) school boy shortly after the boy got off his school bus.

''The boy told police that a man in a car told him to 'Come here,' and he started running toward his house nearby. The boy said the man got out of the car and started chasing him as he attempted to climb over a fence. The man grabbed his leg as he crawled over the fence, but he was able to pull his leg free and run to his house. The man then ran back to his car and drove away, the boy said.''

These successful escapes show how important it is for schools and parents to train kids what to do when an abduction attempt occures, including: Scream, Bite, Kick and Run!

Kids dropped at their bus stop in full daylight remain at risk, even when an adult is nearby to receive the child.

This past May a 26-year-old mother in Tacoma, Washington, stopped a kidnapping attempt on her 6-year-old daughter.

WISC TV 3 News reported the attempt happened after the kindergartner was let off her school bus near her home. ''The child's mother said she grabbed her daughter's feet as the man tried to pull the girl into his car. She said the man finally let go and drove off.''

Are some things predictable? What would likely have happened had that 6-year-old been without a responsible adult escort?

Fortunately the Tacoma incident included a responsible adult waiting for that child.

In other attempted abductions, when it was too late to stop the abductor, a quick thinking adult noted the license plate, basic type or model and color of the fleeing car, resulting in arrest and the safe return of a precious life.

Recently in Fort Worth, Texas, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that school bus driver Mitzi Davis provided police with on-the-spot reports that led to the safe retrieval of a missing 11-month-old boy.

Davis noticed an Amber Alert on an electronic highway sign. She then recognized the vehicle described in the alert in front of her bus and followed it while a bus attendant called 911. Davis spoke to her dispatcher on the phone and detailed the car's travels until police arrived, arrested the driver and retrieved the child.

In this case an alert school bus driver helped rescue an abducted child.

These successful ends to high risk events speak loud and clear:

Adults need improved awareness and skills on how to help keed kids safe, especially parents and school bus transportation providers.

Both parents and transportation providers must start confronting their ignorance, their denial and especially their indifference. Both parents and schools need to begin acting responsibly and skillful toward the safety of kids on the school buses, when kids are walking to and from their bus stops, and also when kids are waiting at their bus stops.

An ''adult supervised'' link, from home to school and from school home is what should be expected when a transportation provider claims their school bus service is safe for kids.

ETAN PATZ
The original milk carton child was 6-year-old Etan Patz, vanished May 25, 1979 as he walked to his school bus stop in lower Manhattan, New York.
Where this adult link does not exist, for every child riding each bus, then transportation providers waste energy attempting to convince informed adults that their school buses are safe:

Rubbish! Their school bus service is a predictable paradise for child predators.

Recently a kindergartner in North Port (FL) wound up nine miles from her home after a teacher placed her on the wrong bus, despite the child's protests and her parents' written instructions. The girl also had explicit instructions in her backpack reminding teachers she was enrolled in an after-school program. Her parents' expected to pick their child up at the school.

According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel story, ''North Point kindergartner forced on wrong school bus'' it was the second time the transportation provider had lost track of a child since schools began in that area earlier this summer:

Earlier that month [August], ''a Davenport first-grader was stranded when she boarded the wrong bus and the bus driver insisted she get off on an unfamiliar road miles from her neighborhood. After wandering the streets in tears, the child was picked up by a motorist who arranged for her safe return home.''

Transportation providers and school bus drivers throughout this great country overwhelmingly agree that parents must accept their share of the responsibility to help keep kids safe at school bus stops.

Where so many seem to depart from agreement is when excuses reflect that the school bus driver and transportation provider have no responsibility on their end for children's safety -- even when the very young are under the transportation provider's temporary care.

In April of this year, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported on February 6 (2002) that a 5-year-old Kahaluu (Hawaii) student disappeared on her way home on the bus. The untrained child departed the bus at another stop because she wanted to visit with a friend. The parent was obviously upset and demanded to know why the substitute bus driver failed to notice the child leave the bus.

Here is the excuse given for a serious breach of childrens safety on a Kahaluu Elementary School bus:

Acting student transportation services manager Cynthia Kawachi said, ''They (bus drivers) don't have authority to prevent a child from getting off (the bus).''

On June 3, 2002, in Texas the Amarillo Police Department could find no one at fault after a 6-year-old boy tried to walk from San Jacinto Elementary to the Lil' Dreamers Day Care, about five miles away, the Amarillo Globe-News reported.

Chandler Jones was usually dropped off at the school by a Laidlaw bus, then picked up by the day care. The boy was supposed to have gone inside the school, but the doors were shut because classes were out for the summer. Sometime between the bus drop-off and the day-care pick up, he started walking.

A woman picking up her child at the school offered Chandler a ride but he refused to get in her car, so the woman followed the boy on his hike. He walked about a mile, crossing busy streets, before arriving at a cleaners where employees called the day care to come pick him up.

''There's no criminal violation here,'' said Amarillo Police Sgt. Kevin Dockery. ''I think the boy thought the school was closed and started walking.''

Vanished
How to help prevent
Death at The School Bus Stop


Click on picture to read Abduction Prevention Tips.
The two Oregon City girls mentioned earlier - and the hundreds of other school kids abducted, molested and murdered over the years - would likely be alive today had the adults involved kept up with the times.

In the case of the Oregon City girls, both may have been lured away while walking to their bus stop, something that would not likely have happened had a responsible adult escorted these kids to their bus stop.

Perhaps even more shocking is the reality that the second child was not escorted to the bus stop after the first was abducted - the second child then abducted about two months later.

How can a message ring home, when even in the same apartment complex, and after one horrific event, denial charges forward? ''That could not happen to my kid - in my neighborhood - on our school bus routes.''

In the Oregon City incident's a child predator did more than destroy two precious young lives. He terrorized an apartment complex and destroyed a small sub-community's sanctuary.

''Disappearances turn apartments into place of fear,'' was titled an August 4 [2002] story by a Portland, Oregon, newspaper, the Oregonian.

"In a place where almost half the residents are children, with an average age of 6, the unrelenting attention prompted an ongoing exodus."

According to the newspaper story, ''the occupancy rate at Newell Creek sunk to 68 percent - down from 92 percent before the girls vanished. Some residents, afraid to be alone in the parking lot, darted from their cars to their apartments and quickly locked their doors.

''It's like a ghost town,'' said resident Julie Gibson. ''When you do see people outside they don't talk to you. Nobody talks to each other.''

Are some communities becoming a world where the most dangerous stranger can be someone you know, the most remote place can be found in the middle of a crowd, and the safest place for kids is behind prison walls?

When it comes to helping keep kids safe the worst of the worst may be our lawmakers making decisions that protect predators to an outrageous extreme.

How can it be considered acting responsibly, professionally or reasonable when child predators are allowed to run free to commit these crimes over and over again, destroying life and terrorizing communities?

Most people don't like the death penalty. Nevertheless, when a child predator is discovered and proven - proof positive with actual facts and actual evidence to support those facts - how many can argue that 'life until death' in prison or submitting predators to the death penalty is somehow an unreasonable outcome?

But there is a problem with this reasoning. Oregon, for example, have over 10,000 registered sex offenders to keep track of, and thousands more going about their business unsupervised. How many child predators are communities willing to keep in prison, ''until death do they depart,'' or send to an early grave, via the gas chamber or electric chair?

Regardless of what is eventually done, concerning the escalation of child predators, both parents and schools must decide together to take better care of the kids.

Predators must not be allowed to be the only ones watching over kids walking to and from their school bus stops. (jk)

Click Here to comment on this story, Subject: Child Predators

Free school bus safety photos - Need a photo or graphic for a newsletter, brochure or your Website? You will find plenty of free graphics and ideas at 2safeschools Yellow Tin Can.
Teachers.Net - A national web site for teachers of all disciplines at all grade levels. Provides many resources. Beth Burno writes a regular column at teachers.net called "Schoolhouse Views."
2safeschools Teachers Webring - over 300 teachers nationwide ready to share their web pages. You'll find a nation's worth of ideas for all grade levels in this webring."
SNET's Internet Features Page - An excellent web site for parents and teachers, features articles relevant to the home, school and the community environment.
2safeschools Awards Centre - Does your web page include a safety suggestion, flyer or article. If it does, apply for your personalized 2safeschools "Helping Hand Award." No safety pages or flyers? Link to 2safeschools free templates page or to our directory or other 2safeschools page of your choice, then apply for your award; Directory Link: http://www.delphi.com/2safeschools
More 2safeschools link info
A Mother's Story - What this mom did when the school and therapy failed her out-of-control son. Excellent reading for Parents and School Staff dealing with an out-of-control teen and nothing else has worked.
A Librarianís Story - A 10-year veteran of the King County, (Washington State) Public Library resigned rather than carry out library policy of providing children with pornography.
How to help keep your child's school bus safe - A short article from "In Loving Memory."

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