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Precautions with Perspective

by Melissa Brunner

The tragic news of a 10-year-old's abduction and murder in Springfield, Missouri may have you hugging your children or grandchildren or siblings or nieces and nephews a little bit tighter tonight. Authorities do not know why a man decided to grab Hailey Owens off the street as she walked to a friend's house, but they do credit observant, involved citizens with being able to quickly apprehend a suspect. Though Hailey's life, ultimately, was not saved, Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams said, at least are able to take steps toward finding answers.

Authorities say it appears this is a true stranger abduction. It's the type of situation that strikes fear into the hearts of many parents. While what happened in Springfield may be a push to remind children of the danger strangers may present, it also should be kept in perspective that stranger abductions are the exception, rather than the rule.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in 1999, the most recent comprehensive nationl study on missing children, more than 200,000 children were abducted by family members with more than 58,000 taken by non-family members. However, only 115 children were victims of kidnappings where the abductor was someone unknown to the child. The word "only" is not used to make light of what is a very grave danger, but to illustrate that it is a much smaller number than the other situations.

For this reason, we must educate our children -- and our teens and college students -- on how to lessen the risk that we will become one of those 115. Remind them to stay with a group or walk with a friend whenever possible and educate them on the appropriate reaction if they are approached or followed. Tell them to trust their instincts -- if something doesn't feel right, it's okay to be impolite and walk away or say no. The Center for Missing and Exploited Children has a simple tip sheet when you click here.

I would ask you to keep this in mind - what happened to Hailey is not her fault and what has happened to other children who have been abducted is not their fault, either. The only person to blame is the perpetrator of the crime. A person who wants to find a victim will search until their are successful. We must do what we can to lower the chances we or someone we love will become that victim. But we can't be at all places at every single moment of the day. We should be able to live with a reasonable expectation that we can walk a couple blocks to a friend's house in safety. Let us use what happened to Hailey to strengthen our resolve to work together to keep our communities and our children safe.

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