While police have yet to release the results of their investigation into Saturday's alleged attempted abduction of a Mt. Juliet child, the police chief said the entire community should always remain diligent about "stranger danger."
The last "formidable" child abduction attempt in Mt. Juliet took place a couple years ago when a man tried to pull a teen girl into his car in the Providence shopping area, according to Mt. Juliet Police Chief James Hambrick. There were witnesses to that incident and the suspect has not been found.
Saturday's reported incident took place in the parking lot of Willow Creek Apartments near Charlie Daniels Park, and just blocks away from the Mt. Juliet Police Department.
According to MJPD Lt. Tyler Chandler, around 10 a.m. that day the mother of a 7-year-old reported a man asked her daughter to get into his vehicle when she was riding her bike near the 700 building of the complex. He said they reported when she walked away he started to follow her.
"That's when she started screaming, 'help me,' and ran away," Chandler said he was told.
Police dispatched to the area, but could find no witnesses and the investigation continued as of Tuesday morning, according to Hambrick.
Since then, police patrols have stepped up in the general vicinity and around schools and parks.
And while the investigation is not concluded, Hambrick said no matter the outcome, the alleged incident is a cautionary tale and one that should remind everyone things can happen anywhere, at anytime.
Schools are back in session. Students are waiting at bus stops, walking and biking to school. Hambrick said he wants the entire community to be watchful "of our children."
But, it is the ultimate responsibility of the families of children to "always appoint someone to watch over children." Ultimately, he said, it's the parents' responsibility their children are supervised.
"Children should not be left unattended," he said. "Simply, we are living in the times we live in. We have to be diligent. You've heard the term, 'it takes a village to raise a child.'"
Even it there is an appointed attendent, these days there are so many distractions such as texting and social media on phones. It just takes a minute for someone to lure or snatch a child, according to Irene van der Zande, Kidpower Founder and Executive Director. Kidpower is a national organization founded to teach people of all ages and abilities how to use their power to stay safe, act wisely and believe in themselves.
She said children, and parents alike, need to resist the "Illusion of Safety."
"The Illusion of Safety happens in settings or situations where people feel so relaxed, sheltered or distracted that they stop focusing on ensuring that their children have adequate supervision, understanding and skills to avoid potential dangers," she said. "Sadly, the Illusion of Safety can lead to children being traumatized, injured or even killed from problems that could have been prevented."
However, at the same time, children are likely to feel less safe if their adults are constantly anxious.
"As adults, our challenge is to find a good balance between accepting that life is not risk free, deciding that we want children to enjoy life despite the risks, making a realistic assessment of what these risks are and having a plan for how to avoid most of them," she said.
Kidpower holds workshops across the nation. Part of their program is teaching a "checklist" for parents to teach their children how to avoid and escape from abduction. (See sidebar)
To avoid and escape from abduction, children and teens need to:
Courtesy of Kidpower
"The instant they think they might face danger, young people need to be prepared to immediately react by moving away, yelling, running, making a scene and fighting to escape," van der Zande advised.
"Tell your kids don't ever take anything from a stranger, and don't talk to strangers," he said. "There are various agendas. Tennessee has a problem with human trafficking."
He also said a tactic is for predators to try to lure children with "ice cream" and "puppies."
"Tell your child if someone attempts this they need to run away immediately, scream 'help' and find an adult," he said.
Since coverage from Saturday's incident, Hambrick said the department has had several calls about "suspicious behavior," in neighborhoods. He welcomes the calls.
"We want people to be engaged," he said. "We pray each time it's nothing, but the one time people think it may be nothing, it could be."
However, if there is an abduction attempt, and even suspicious behavior such as a strange car touring the neighborhood, it's essential the incidents are reported "within minutes," Hambrick said.
"So we have the chance to get out there and do our job," he said. "Don't let 20 minutes go by to report anything."
"Parents are encouraged to have a conversation with their children to remind them about the dangers that strangers can pose to them," Chandler said.
At press time, Chandler said there is no way to know the intentions of Saturday's alleged abductor.
More tips and advice can be found at kidpower.org. There are even coloring books to print out about stranger danger.