Keeping queens’ Children Safe From Abduction
By Liz Goff and Azi Paybarah
The quiet, tree-lined streets of Kew Gardens Hills were turned upside down this week, when a 15-year-old girl walking home from synagogue was approached by an unknown man who tried to kidnap her.
The girl, whose identity is being withheld because of her age, managed to get away from the man, who covered her mouth and tried to lead her into a car as the sun went down on Feb. 7.
Although the girl escaped, ran to a friend’s house, and called the police, stopping a potential tragedy from occuring on the streets of Queens, the incident has shaken up the borough, and has led parents to wonder – how can we keep our kids safe?
A Close Call
At around 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 7, the 15-year-old Kew Gardens Hills resident was walking home alone from Sabbath services at Etz Chiam synagogue when the suspect – who had been following her in his black sedan – exited the car at Main Street and 76th Terrace and grabbed her around the mouth, trying to force her into his car, police said.
As the terrified victim struggled desperatly to free herself from the man’s grasp, police said, a passerby spotted them and screamed. The suspect, who did not have a weapon and who did not harm the girl, released the girl, and raced back to his car and sped-off, leaving the teen on the street, police said.
The girl ran to a friend’s home nearby, where she called 911.
The 17-year-old male friend, said, "She came into the house, very shaken. It was just a minute after it happened . . . She said someone was driving alongside her in a car. He got out of the car, grabbed her and tried to take her with him." His mother added, "She was remarkably calm considering."
The friend and some other teens ran into the street to try to find the man, but there was no sign of them, the friend said.
The suspect is described as a white male, 25 to 30 years old, 200 pounds, six feet, one inch tall, with gelled hair and multiple earrings in both ears. The man was driving a black "expensive looking" car with yellow license plates, police said.
A sketch of the man was released by the police at presstime, and anyone with information on the suspect is asked to call the NYPD hotline at (800) 577-TIPS.
In The Neighborhood
Across the street from the location where the attempted kidnapping happened at Shevach High School this week, students and administrators nervously refused to comment on the kidnapping, although a mother staying outside said, "There should be no reason why a 15-year-old shouldn’t walk home by herself."
Down the street, at a popular lunchtime destination in the Kew Gardens neighborhood, one pizza-maker said, "I don’t know how it happened here."
District Manager Diane Cohen of Community Board 8 that covers the area said, "If I had young children, I’d be very frightened." She added, "My child used to walk to school when they were five years old. Times have really changed . . . it’s terrifying."
Councilman James Gennaro said the attempted abduction "reminds us…[to] never take for granted the tranquility which we regularly enjoy."
Pat Dolan, president of the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association, stressed that the girl was not injured, and that police are doing everything they can to catch the suspect. Police at the 107th Precinct told the Tribune that "everything possible" is being done, and said, "People should keep their eyes open. It’s scary, but we can’t end our lives."
Police and experts in the prevention of child abduction agree that youngsters come equipped with the best deterent against abduction – their lungs.
Bob Stuber, California native and founder of the Escape School, a nationwide entity that teaches kids and parents safety tips, told the Tribune, "You know you kids can scream. Teach them to scream as long and loud as they can. Tell them to kick, scream, shout, punch – do anything to attract attention to their situation."
Now a retired police officer, Stuber – who is often in Queens to teach seminars –said he saw first hand how difficult it is to find missing children as a law enforcement official. In an effort to teach parents and youngsters the ways to prevent abduction, he developed the program and has traveled nationwide, offering seminars and workshops on the topic.
Stuber said many families see the lessons taught through the Escape School as a catalyst, getting parents and children to address the issue. "The fear," he said, "quickly fades and is replace by constructive ideas and proactive attitudes."
Tips For Parents
Police at Patrol Borough Queens North offered the following tips for parents looking to keep their kids safe:
• Children should be taught their full name, address, phone number and how to dial 911 for help.
• Parents should get to know their kids’ friends, and keep addresses and phone numbers on hand.
• Walk with your kids through your neighborhood. Show them where they can find adults who they can go to for help.
• Don’t let your children wear expensive jewelry to walk around the neighborhood. Explain to your children that if someone approaches them for their jewelry, they should hand it over.
• Teach your kids not to talk to or go with strangers, even if they claim to be friends of the family. If a stranger tries to pick a child up from school, the child should be taught to go back inside the school and search for a teacher or security guard.
• Teach children that if a situation makes them uncomfortable, they should immediately find someone they trust and tell.
• Teach kids to stay away from cars, vans and other vehicles, even when adults call them over.
• Kids should know that they should never get into a car unless they ask their parents first – even if they know the person.
• Never send children out with tags or clothing that bear their names.
• Never pin house keys to a child’s clothing.
• Teach children that if a stranger is lurking near their home, they should go into a local store or the home of a neighbor they trust and report it to police.
• Children should know never to tell strangers who call their homes that they are home alone.
Learn How To Escape
To get an Escape School trainer to talk to a school, camp or other group about safety, log on to http://www.ears.net/escgi/state.php?state=NY where a list of certified trainers throughout Queens is located.