**Editor’s note: To protect the identity of the child involved in this incident, the Courier will not be using the child’s name, and will refer to her mother in those terms only, not by name.
SAINT ANDREWS – A Saint Andrews family is on edge on the heels of an incident that occurred in the seaside town last week.
On Monday, March 8, a nine-year-old child left Vincent Massey Elementary School (VMES) for the day, and was waiting between the school and the Sir James Dunn Academy for her sister who is a high school student, so they could walk together to their grandmother’s home.
The child’s mother said her daughter was walking to the high school at 3:15 p.m. after her school was dismissed. She was standing on the sidewalk near the high school, by herself, when a black SUV drove past her. The driver asked if she needed a ride, and she refused. He then proceeded to pull a U-turn, parking across the street and staring at the child.
“She said he was watching her the whole time she was standing there,” said the mother. “She got kind of freaked out by it and she skittered into the high school parking lot and waited closer to the school until her sister came out.”
The mother said her once-fearless child is now terrified to walk the short distance from the elementary school to the high school by herself, which her mother described as, “unfortunate because we do live in a pretty safe area”. The mother said her daughter should feel safe to be able to walk around by herself.
The mother said she doesn’t feel the RCMP is concerned enough about the situation, even though nothing did happen and her child is safe and sound. She realizes the incident wasn’t dramatic, but it did scare her and her daughter. The mother watched the video captured by the high school camera, and she asked the child to give her a “play by play” account of what happened.
“All I have to go off is what my little girl is telling me, and her reaction to the situation,” said the mother. “I know my child. She is fearless. She is blasé about most things, and she won’t walk from the elementary school to the high school now. (It’s) never been an issue for her before. She should feel like she can walk around and be safe.”
Unfortunately, the image from the video camera is poor quality, and there is no audio. The video has been viewed by members of the RCMP, but they have said there isn’t much police can do other than be on the lookout for the vehicle, which is a black SUV.
“The police and everybody said there isn’t really much we can do, other than we’ll keep our eyes out for the vehicle and if anyone sees it then report it, which I understand.”
The child in question spoke to the Courier about the incident, and confirmed she is now afraid to walk anywhere by herself. Normally, she does have a friend who walks with her, but last Monday the friend forgot something in VMES and had to go back inside, leaving her friend to walk alone.
When asked if she has any advice for other kids to help them stay safe, the child simply said, “Don’t trust strangers.”
Sgt. Chris Henderson, operations NCO for Eastern Charlotte County, said the incident is currently under investigation. The RCMP is looking for the owner or driver or a vehicle matching the description and the video. The vehicle is a black van or SUV that would have been seen traveling south bound on King Street in Saint Andrews, turning onto Carleton Street approximately 3:10 p.m.
“We would like to either speak to the owner or the operator of the vehicle just to clarify some details,” said Henderson. “We’re not at any point suggesting there was an attempted kidnapping. That’s where we’re at, at this point. We would like to speak to that person.”
When asked what children should do when they are faced with this type of situation Henderson said all children should be advised to never approach or engage with anyone who is unknown to them. He said they should look for a parent or another adult that they trust.
According to the website, www.missingkids.ca, approximately 40,000 children go missing in Canada each year. A 2018 study shows that 58 per cent of all missing children and youth are female, and 57 per cent of all missing persons reports involve children. Lindsay Lobb, spokesperson for the Canadian Centre for Child Protection said it is imperative to teach children not to go anywhere with anyone without first getting their parents’ permission. She also said child safety should be an ongoing discussion at home and in classrooms; that it isn’t just a crash course.
“That’s a great safety message to get across,” said Lobb. “If parents want to utilize our resources, they can come to us. Our resources are free to parents. If they need anything they can always come to our website. The safety messaging that we really want adults to continue using is that if your parents don’t know that you’re being asked to go somewhere, to not go anywhere with anybody.”
Lobb said her organization has plenty of supplementary resources for parents through the Kids in the Know program at www.kidsintheknow.ca. She said there are some great courses that parents can utilize to practice with their children on how to respond in various situations. This ensures that safety becomes second nature to all parents and children.
“It allows them to become part of their safety habits, to really integrate those safety messages into kids’ day-to-day lives,” said Lobb.
Lobb also mentioned a downloadable PDF file that offers tips on how parents can keep children of all ages safe. The information in this document includes safety tips for children in various age groups, as well as things all adults, particularly parents, teachers, and caregivers should be on the lookout for. This document can be viewed at www.missingkids.ca/pdfs/MK_SafetyHabitstoKeepKidsSafe_en.pdf.
The mother said she will be more vigilant than ever when it comes to the safety of her children. She said it just goes to show that people can become “too complacent” at times, and it is easy to forget crimes happen everywhere, not just in the larger cities. She is glad that her daughter “trusted her gut and acted accordingly”, and thinks it is very important for kids to understand that their feelings are valid.
“Our children are pretty safe around here, but at the same time, things can happen that we don’t plan on,” said the mother. “It’s good to teach your children to not necessarily readily trust a stranger. I think that’s important for kids to understand that their feelings are valid and they don’t have to worry about offending a stranger or being rude to an adult if they’re uncomfortable. I think that’s an important message for kids to know.”