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January 25, 2005

Kids learn how to avoid abductions

From: The News-Press, FL - Jan 25, 2005

Stranger danger taught in Escape School

Published by on January 25, 2005

If a stranger approached 11-year-old Kaitlyn on the street asking for help or directions, she wouldn't offer any assistance.

"I'd just ignore them and walk on by," the Fort Myers Middle sixth-grader said. "If it was a weirdo, I would say I don't know."

Kaitlyn's strategy is among those outlined in Dignity Memorial's Escape School, a nationwide program that reviews deceptive practices of kidnappers while showing techniques to avoid abduction. Locally, Fort Myers Memorial Gardens offers presentations across the Southwest Florida.

Thursday's Escape School at Fort Myers Middle drew both students and their parents, who many times worry more about safety than do their children.

"He's 12 and as outgoing as they come. She's 13 with blond hair and blue eyes," parent Michelle Anders said. "You have to be scared."

Her two children, Quintin Ray and Amber Ray, are not allowed to ride their bicycles alone or walk by themselves, and they always carry a cell phone when they are outside without their mom nearby.

Anders is especially worried about Amber because she is deaf, and cannot always sense if someone is behind her. After 11-year-old Carlie Brucia was abducted last February in Sarasota, Anders stepped up the focus on safety. Amber, a seventh-grader, learned a new technique at Escape School —clinging onto her bike like Velcro to make any abduction attempt very difficult.

"The bike will never fit in the car," Amber said.

Fourteen-year-old Dominick Strahan, an eighth-grader at Fort Myers Middle, would use the windmill technique to flee a predator. That involves children flipping their arms in a circle to release them from a stranger's grab. Dominick doesn't plan to let anyone get that close to him, though.

"If I were on a bike, I would go the opposite direction of the person," he said.

At home, mother Nicole Strahan has given stranger-danger talks and reviewed all of the normal precautionary strategies. She still wanted her son to attend Escape School to possibly learn more.

Fort Myers Memorial Gardens has coordinated several dozen Escape Schools in the past year, drawing as many as 300 students and parents in a single session. Community outreach coordinator Edward Herbert Jr. rattles off statistics to start — 4,600 children are abducted each year, and 300 are never seen alive again — before showing a 20-minute safety video. Children then practice the windmill and Velcro techniques, and learn how to jam a car's ignition or pull wiring out of cars.

Kaitlyn's mother, Holli Knight, said she has taught a lot at home, but still worries about what could happen.

"You hope your child takes that to heart and applies it if necessary," Knight said. "We realize what's out there; we're not naive."

Copyright 2005 , The News-Press.