What’s So Strange About This Article?

To me — everything. Here it is. It’s about a 12-year-old, new to the neighborhood on his first day of school, who missed the bus home. He and his friend started walking, apparently got lost (the reference to Fred Myer is a local grocery), and pretty soon the entire town — police, Boys & Girls Club, everyone — was on high alert for the missing boys.

I love the idea of community invovlement, but I’ve got all these questions, starting with: The kid had a cell phone. Why didn’t he call? If it was a new phone and he was unfamiliar with it, why didn’t he ask someone to help him use it? Why didn’t the school, where he went after he missed his bus, call his parents or help him get home? And why is a 12-year-old who is temporarily AWOL a news story? Are we so convinced abductions are happening all the time that when a child is NOT abducted, that’s considered news? 

Anyway, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is something very strange about this story. If you can figure it out, clue me in. Meantime, a thank you to Free-Range Kids reader Nancy, who sent it in, with the comment: “It blows me away that there would be this level of worry over a 12 year old missing his bus in a safe residential neighborhood (without even any busy streets!) When I was 12 I had already held down a summer job for 3 years.”

Hmmm. — Lenore

38 Responses

  1. There are many things here I don’t understand.

    1) If it was a new phone, hadn’t his home number or parents’ phones been programmed into the contacts? He could ahve called someone.

    2) If he wasn’t sure how to use the phone, surely his mom had the number and could have called HIM? I don’t get it. Was it turned off by mistake or something? And if that’s the case, mention it in the article. Big time holes in this story.

    3) Why was it such a big deal? This was not a 6 year old missing, this was a seventh grader… even if he is in a new town, he can handle himself until he figures stuff out, like how to get home or how to get ahold of somebody. Was there further details we weren’t given? Does he have special needs that make this a bigger deal?

  2. I’m just glad to see that his mom let him ride the bus *by himself* on the next day. That could have gone differently.

  3. Aside from the fact that the story should have been about the big school fail (class running late so students are missing buses, that would tick me off as a parent)

    To me, the telling line is when the mom says “It was just more or less confusion because he wasn’t sure what he should do” He’s 12. And he can’t figure out that he should call his mom to tell her he missed the bus? For a nation so worried about abductions and kidnappings and all the bad things that could go wrong, you think somewhere along the line they would have talked about calling mom/dad in these situations, wouldn’t you?

  4. I have a now 8th grader and last year she would wonder off with her friends and forget to call me and since she mutes the ringer on her phone on school and often forgets to turn it back on so it can be hard to reach her. My guess is this boy and his friend decided not to take the bus home and walk home because it would be fun. So he didn’t call home because he knew he would be told no. It ended up taking longer then he thought it would. Then when the whole search and rescue happen he had to act like he was lost to save face.

  5. I think Squib’s explanation is a plausible one.

    But I also wonder … the kid specifically considered and didn’t call 911. We know nothing of the economic status of this family; maybe it’s not a “functional” cell phone but just one he carries with no (service) plan but with instructions to call 911 in a true emergency. So it’s possible that was the only choice available to him … dial 911 or don’t use the phone. And if this is the case then of course his mom couldn’t call him on that phone, either.

    And if my 12-year old went AWOL in a new city for nearly 4 hours, I’d be anxious (at least). So I’m pretty empathetic. Here’s my guess … overall, the kid knew he was OK (and so didn’t panic or realize his mom might panic), was working on getting home, and didn’t realize how late it had gotten (or what that would mean to his mom). Meanwhile as time passes, mom gets worried. Overall the reaction of each seems pretty reasonable to me (assuming the cell phone only worked for 911 calls).

    And if nothing much happens in Corvallis (pop. 50,000 according to Wikipedia) and/or the newspaper carries mostly “local interest” stories, then for this to be a news story doesn’t seem weird to me. Dull, but not weird.

  6. Why were these two boys the only kids to miss the bus? Was the other boy new, too, for them to so easily get lost? I’m thinking Squib may have nailed it.

  7. I have to admit that if I sent my son somewhere with a cell phone in his possession and he both didn’t show up at the destination and didn’t call, I too would be worried. After all, the whole point of the cell phone is to call if something goes awry, so if he doesn’t call, it seems reasonable to fear that something really bad might have happened. And I say this as someone who lets my son go off around the neighborhood unattended on a daily basis.

  8. Why didn’t the mother call the cell phone?

    There is something going on that was not reported but I am not sure what. Perhaps the kids (and/or parents) are mentally slow. Or the kids or parents were doing something illegal. Or the parents locked the kids out without a key.

  9. My freshmen year in High School (1995) I was bussed to school for the first time. At some point during the first few weeks of school I missed my bus home, and was unaware that there were later buses I could catch. Since I didn’t have change to catch public transit, I decided to walk home; I walked about 5 miles from Jersey City New Jersey to Union City New Jersey, a 14 year old girl on my own, following the same path the school bus took so as to not get lost. There was no hew or cry or news report about it, my mom was happy I made it hope, and proud at how resourceful I was.
    It was a good life lesson and I’m happy for the experience.

  10. i think this story is strange because as a 12 year old I would certainly have known what to do if I missed the bus, because I had been responsible for getting myself to and from school, the library, friends’ houses, and anywhere else I wanted to go for many years. Also I wouldn’t have been afraid to approach a stranger and ask for directions or to borrow their phone, because i had never been taught that all strangers were dangerous.

    This scenario is something that might happen to a Kindergardener. So either Squib has hit the nail on the head or this boy has been so overparented that he has the street smarts of a six-year-old.

    And how did they get lost in such a small city? 50,000 is a large town, not a city. Was the other kid new too?

  11. Let me put my finger on why this story feels wrong: Naive parents!

    Assuming this was a normal 7th grade boy, it is likely he was not “found” but “caught.”

  12. I think it’s possible kid chose to walk home. If he really missed the bus he would have gone to school admin. But you’d think that if a teacher made a class run so long that that kids miss the bus they’d notify the parent and ensure they get home safely..seeming they are for safety and all(guess they really aren’t)

  13. Speaking as a Corvallis resident (where this happened), I can comment on why this was in the paper: yes, this truly is considered news here in Corvallis. I moved here a year ago from OC, CA, and am daily amazed by what the GT runs as news. The other story that got mentioned twice today in the paper was about the woman who tried to go through security at the county courthouse with the “wrong purse” — she had both a knife and pot in her bag. Why this was worth mentioning twice (in the police blotter section and in the Roses ‘n’ Raspberries– think “cheers and jeers”) is beyond me!

  14. I used to walk home, and the walk is about 40 minutes.

    Sometimes I’d go to the department store first (which is about 5 minutes from my school, or on the way home, depending on which one I want to go to), or I’d go to the comic store for 20 minutes, then run home to meet the deadline.

    Sometimes I’m late.

    My mother never called the police.

  15. I’m with Squib. My first impression was that this boy sure did not make much of an effort to contact his parents. He could have walked right back into the school after missing the bus (supposedly) and they would have called his house. And never mind the cell phone – kids got by just fine before they were invented. In 7th grade I got on the wrong bus and ended up on the other side of town. I got off the bus at a store and called my mom from there. My conclusion is, if this was my kid, he would be grounded, and if that was a working cell phone, he would not be allowed to use it for another year.

  16. reads like an onion story to me.

    Diana – I once accidentally took a steak knife to the courthouse. Glad no one called it news.

  17. Realtively speaking, Corvallis probably *was* a big city for these guys. They did come from Wyoming after all.

  18. <img src="http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/_images/ISBNCovers/Covers_Enlarged/9780316108249_388X586.jpg"My reading students love this book. In it, a boy is told to take the bus to his swimming class with his friend. They fall asleep on the bus and wake up at the end of the line. The end of the line is, in fact, the right stop, but because their friends have told them horror stories about botched bus rides ending in horrible disaster, they panic. The go to a diner to use the phone–phone’s broken! They go back to the bus stop to take the bus in the opposite direction–uh-oh! They’ve spent their bus fare on twinkies and soda! At last, they ask the bus driver for help, who tells them they’re not the first kids to get lost, lets them on the bus for free, and brings them home, where they get hugged by mom and told they did a good job figuring out what to do by themselves. Sounds like reality, right? Except the kids in the book don’t have a cell phone! Who are these weird people with their weird idea of an emergency?! And what kind of twelve-year-old doesn’t know how to use a cell phone?

  19. oops! The book is “Arthur Lost and Found” by Marc Brown.

  20. The phone is the odd thing here — no one called him and he called no one? I appreciate that he didn’t want to call 911. That’s a good thing, since he wasn’t in any danger and had the sense to know the difference.

    But why didn’t his parents call him instead of the school or the police?????

  21. Definitely agree with Squib. Does no one remember the crap they tried to pull when they were 12? I, for one, was already sneaking out of my house in the middle of the night and stealing my dad’s cigarettes. 12 is not a baby that gets lost, unless this kid was mentally challenged. He was off doing something he should not have been doing, and had to make up the story about being lost when it had obviously turned into a big deal. This mom needs to wake up or, before she knows it, he’ll be dealing drugs out of her house, and she’ll just assume he’s popular.

  22. You’re right, something doesn’t add up here.

    The kid had a cell phone, and his mom presumably knew the number, yet she didn’t call him? (If she did, the article doesn’t mention it.)

    Good on him for not calling 911, but … he couldn’t figure out how to phone his mother? Or (if they’re so new in town that he couldn’t remember his own phone number) Directory Assistance?

    Where is the kid’s friend’s family in all of this? Is the friend also so new in town that he couldn’t find his way home from school? (I’ve been to Corvallis. It’s not that big a place.)

    How come these two were the only kids who missed the bus? How did the rest of the kids in the class that “ran late” (and I don’t remember that ever happening when I was in Grade 7 …) get home?

    I strongly suspect that either (a) the boys were up to something they didn’t want to tell anyone about, or (b) this kid has developmental issues that the news story doesn’t mention. I was making my own way home from school at that age (on the city bus), and if I wasn’t home when I was supposed to be it was usually because I was spending my allowance at the candy store, having a snowball fight with a boy I liked, etc., etc., not because I was lost. (I did get lost one Shabbat morning, though, going on the bus by myself to a shul I’d never been to before. Also age 12. I have a TERRIBLE sense of direction. When I’d wandered around so long that even I knew I was hopelessly lost, I found a phone booth and called my mom, and she explained to me how to get home, and I went home. She probably would have come to get me, but we were between cars at the time.)

    It’s encouraging that the mom hasn’t decided she needs to drive him to school every single day, though!

  23. The only thing that would make sense would be if the parents told the kid the phone was only for real emergencies/calling 911, or as someone suggested above the phone was only enabled for emergencies.

    There’s still the possibility that none of this makes sense, but that actually would.

    Still, a twelve year old missing for four hours in broad daylight and turning up safe makes a metro paper? Yeah, that’d be odd in a normal world. But….

  24. As far as this “story” making the news, remember that there are for all practical purposes only two words in a news producer’s vocabulary: “budget” and “deadline.” Producers love stories like this because they essentially write themselves; just shove a microphone in people’s faces, record what they say, and run it. Hardly any staff time (=money) needed.

  25. You asked what is so strange about this article? Well the other kid was not new to town and they still were “lost” for 4 or 5 hours? Hmmmm…I wonder if there was a video arcade anywhere near that school?

  26. I think it’s funny how all the town’s people are patting themselves on the back for a job well done… when absolutely nothing happened.

  27. Maybe part of it is just that with all the scheduling, cell phones, computers and so forth, people have gotten used to always knowing where their entire family is for every minute of the day. Back in the dark ages, we frequently didn’t know where someone was, and that was normal. You may worry slightly is someone was late to dinner, but you knew things happened — extra traffic, needing to stop for gas, etc.. But no one would go stop at a pay phone to call just to say they were getting gas. Or leave the highway to call home and say there was traffic.😉

    These days it’s so easy to communicate that people really expect to never wonder. And they’ve gotten very used to it.

  28. i wonder if maybe the boy is mentally disabled in some way, or something equal? Maybe that’s why all the fuss? otherwise, no idea.

  29. maybe someone else commented on this, but what struck me as odd in this story was there was no explanation of where the boys had been for the 4 or so hours they were missing. It said they were found near the school. Had they walked for a couple hours then turned back?

  30. As so many others have said it doesn’t seem like the kid was trying too hard to get home!

    I can see why a parent who is new to town would be less than sanguine about their child being late home – when you don’t know people or the resources available then you’re wise to start trying to find out what the deal is earlier than you would if you were more familiar with a place.

    But I think the comments that sneer at the town’s call out system are kind of sad. It seems like a great way to scale the sort of neighborliness you can often rely on in smaller communities.

    If this sort of thing were wide spread and an everyday part of small (or large) city living then more parents might be more inclined to freerange. Not so much because they would know their child could be found at the drop of a hat – but because it’s the sort of thing that inculcates trust and faith in your fellow citizens. It’s hard to think that every stranger is a molester when you’re aware that so many are helpful and kind.

    And while it does seem like a slow news kind of story – it’s a much more likely outcome than the child having been abducted and murdered. One of the things I keep reading here is that crime against kids hasn’t increased, it’s just our perception, due in large part to the media’s focus. So it seems like this reporting is also a good thing from a free range perspective.

  31. I agree, I think he was out having fun with his new friend. Let’s go to Fred Meyer! They don’t have those in Wyoming! Everything is new and cool!

    Then: Oh, crap, everyone is looking for me and my mom is scared, better act like I tried to get home but got lost.

  32. Maybe the parents need a GPS for kids! After that California girl was found living as a sex slave for years, parents are probably more nervous even their older child could be snatched by a perv.

  33. I grew up in Corvallis in the 90’s… biked/bussed to school every day, that is very normal in that town. Corvallis is a very neighborly town, kids crawl everywhere, nobody calls the cops. Or at least when I was there.

    I personally have taken the wrong bus, missed my stop, gotten lost (taking a shortcut through a large park), hung out at Fred Meyer’s (its right by the high school), hung out at the library, and pretended I was somewhere else because wandering around town is fun. Nobody worried (my mom is very free range!)

    Corvallis is extremely bike-friendly, kids running around by themselves is NOT unusual there. ALL my friends and I had unsupervised after-school time – I agree that the other kid suggested an adventure, and the “lost” story was made up later.

  34. My grandmother was a weird one in the mix of overprotective and free range. She would tell me to take off on my bike, not give me a come-home time (use your best judgement), didn’t think I was responsible enough for a watch, and would then call the hospitals and police if I wasn’t home in what SHE considered a ‘reasonable amount of time’ (about an hour and a half, at 12/13). Additionally, she wouldn’t let me climb trees….
    so what did she think I did?! I rode my bike to a good park, and climbed the damn trees!!! Use my best judgement… sheesh! At 12, my best judgement was to stay away from her as long as possible at any opportunity!
    And I lived in the middle of Denver, CO, metro population over 2 million even in the late 70s.

  35. Or maybe they’re just 12? I was about that age when I got home and realized that I’d lost my key (I was a latchkey kid). Long story short, I broke in. Mom gets home, sees the broken glass, and asks, “Why didn’t you go to Mrs. ___ across the street, who has a spare key? That’s what I’ve always told you to do if you lose your key!”

    Um, because I forgot?

  36. Wow. I STILL get on the wrong bus a lot when I move to a new town – and have been famous in my family for getting lost since I was a little kid – no internal sense of direction I suppose. Nevertheless – I always was able to figure out how to call home if I needed help and was taking buses out to the beach (about 40 miles) on summer weekends since I was 11 or so (with a friend one year older.)

    I also recall not coming home when I was expected because I went to a friend’s without checking in with mom first – hell to pay and if I could have come up with a good getting lost story I am certain I would have tried it!

  37. This happened in my town too-since when do kids missing the bus get press coverage??? http://www.brainerddispatch.com/stories/121109/new_20091211003.shtml

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