Girl Missing from State Park! Mustached Man Seen! Massive Search Party! And a Stranger Danger Lesson

Folks — Here’s a story that manages to encapsulate exactly why “stranger danger” is such a stupid — no, HARMFUL —  concept to preach. On Saturday afternoon, a little girl named Jackie was reported missing in a state park in Rhode Island.  As The Westerly Sun reported:

At 3:50 p.m., Charlestown police received a report of a child missing at the 3,100-acre campground. The child, a 7-year-old girl from Connecticut named Jackie with shoulder-length blonde hair, had been last seen wearing a tie-dyed bathing suit and pink Croc clogs, riding her bicycle. The bike was found on the park’s yellow-dot trail near the 700 section of the 730-site campground, but not Jackie.

Initially, a report of a suspicious vehicle spotted earlier in the day at the Charlestown Breachway — a 1996 green Subaru station wagon with a bike rack, with Vermont license plates, driven by a man with dark hair and a mustache — was linked to the case.

Okay, so now we have a missing girl and a man with a mustache. Think the worst! The state police arrive and a massive search party is organized, including soldiers, fire fighters and a K-9 unit. They fan out, even checking car trunks.  But the police tell private citizens NOT to join in the search, for fear they’d get lost, too. (Does it sometimes seem like we bend over backwards NOT to create a cohesive, helpful society?)

Anyway, a mom named Lisa Blair and her much older daughters defy the order and go yelling the little girl’s name. And the girl yells back, “Mommy and Daddy!” Blair has the girl keep yelling, so she can locate her in the dense woods. And she does! Case solved! As it might have been much earlier, except —

Blair said that Jackie told her she had heard men yelling for her earlier, but was scared to approach them. When she heard the women calling out her name, she yelled back.

As it turns out, the girl was lost, not abducted. So…considering that child abductions by strangers are very rare. Considering that we WANT our kids to have the biggest safety net possible. And considering that most people are NOT predators, doesn’t it make sense to teach your children TO talk to strangers? After all, if your children are ever in danger you WANT them to be able to ask for help from the nearest person, and you want them to accept help! Teach them to distrust all strangers, or at least all MALE strangers, and you have cut off almost all the help they could possibly get.

Which inevitably calls to mind the Utah Boy Scout, Brennan Hawkins, who was lost in the mountains for far longer than Jackie: for four days.  People Magazine interviewed his mom after the ordeal and she said:

Brennan told us he thought that he was going to die three times, and he said a prayer asking God for directions. His biggest fear was being abducted, so when he spotted rescuers on horseback, he stayed hidden.

Can we PLEASE STOP TEACHING STRANGER DANGER? PLEASE? — L.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep/ But not everyone in there is a creep.

An Alert for an 11-y.o. Missing for 2 Hours?

Hi Readers! Just got this note from “Emily in Ohio.” Loved it! And her! — L.
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Dear Free-Range Kids: Last week, at 4pm, I received an automated call from the police station about an 11-year-old that was missing.  When did the boy go missing you ask?  That day at 2 pm.  That’s right, he was missing for TWO WHOLE HOURS before the police called every single person in the city, asking for any information whatsoever regarding his whereabouts.
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A whopping five minutes later, I received another call — he had been located. Yeah, that’s right.  Why is it the American standard that if our children should ever leave our sight for a microsecond, that we need to issue a lockdown over the whole country?  Kids don’t need to be supervised every hour of every day. Did it ever occur to anyone that maybe this boy wasn’t abducted and murdered but decided to go out with his friends and didn’t have a cell phone with him?
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I could understand if the boy had been missing for two or three days, but two hours?  And since the call went out two hours after he went missing, I’m sure the police were notified less than hour after he went missing.  It really annoys me that people are going so crazy about child safety.
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I guess I have been raised “Free-Range,” more out of necessity than principle, having been raised by a single mother for most of my life.  I’m only 16, but I already appreciate the style with which I was raised.  I started staying at home alone when I was about 7 or 8, and have turned out perfectly fine and probably more independent than most kids my age.  However, my own extended family still treats me like I am 5.  Over the summer, I was at the mall food court with my aunt and cousin.  I wanted to go to a restaurant that was on the other side of the food court. My aunt asked me if I thought it was okay with my mom if I walked across the food court by myself to get food, which really irritated me.  Apparently I am capable of driving a car but not old enough to walk by myself.
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My mom’s brother has two daughters, 7 and 10.  His wife balked at the concept of allowing the older one to walk two miles home from school alone.  Even in my government class, when we were talking about issues that concerned us, and I shared about the fact that crime rates are as low as they have been since the ’60s, but that parents are attempting to make their kids too safe, everyone stared at me like I was crazy.
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On a final note, I feel compelled to share something I read on a “mommy blog.” This woman was talking about her new house, and how her almost 10 year old still sleeps with a baby monitor because she fears that “he is going to be sick or hurt in the night and need her or someone will break in and abduct him” and she won’t be able to hear any of this happen because he sleeps a floor lower than she and her husband.  I rest my case. — Emily