SEATTLE — “My daughter loves candy. That’s like her drug,” says Melissa Hysom, the mother of a sixth-grader who was recently approached by a stranger who offered her candy.
Although the girl did not respond to the man, Hysom says it happened when she was walking home from school.
“We don’t live very far from school, and she takes a bus to a certain drop-off point where she only has to walk four blocks,” Hysom explained.
Nancy McBride, regional director for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said, “A child is most susceptible going to and from school, or a school-related event, between the hours of 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., being, I guess for no other reason, being called prime time.”
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, “prime time” for predators is when a child is most often alone. The main targets are girls between the ages of 10 and 14.
“I think it’s surprising to a lot of people, they expect the child to be much younger. But when you think about the younger kids, they’re usually being supervised by an adult, like a parent or guardian, but as they get older we give them more freedom,” says McBride.
In more than 70% of attempted abductions, a vehicle is used, and suspects often offer candy or say they have lost a puppy and need help finding him in an attempt to lure a child into a car. But in addition to teaching your kids not to talk to strangers, experts say that parents should also prepare for the worst.
Ayn Sandalo Dietrich, a spokeswoman for the FBI, said the agency offers a free app that can be downloaded onto phones.
“It encourages parents to take the time proactively to compile all of that information into one place where it’s easily able to be sent off to law enforcement,” Dietrich said.
The FBI’s free app is designed to save law enforcement precious time in the event that a child goes missing.
Dietrich says, “The child ID app first of all asks for your photo, then it asks for basic stuff — name, nickname, height, weight, eye color.”
It can be quickly uploaded to law enforcement everywhere and distributed in minutes.
Still, those in the know agree the biggest safeguard for kids doesn’t come through technology. It’s good, old-fashioned parenting.
McBride adds, “Child safety is 365 days a year and the one message I have is that kids are out there playing longer, later. We need to make sure that the younger kids are supervised and the older kids know what to do if they are approached because these people are not taking a summer break.”