EPD Chief: Communicating with children best weapon in parents' anti-kidnapping arsenal

By Greg Miller

Fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart.
   Seven-year-olds Alexis Patterson and Danielle van Dam.
   Five-year-old Samantha Runnion.
   These children, along with others, were abducted in recent weeks. Elizabeth and Alexis have not been found. Danielle and Samantha's bodies were recovered after they were murdered.
   In the aftermath of a large number of highly-publicized kidnappings, Elizabethton (EPD) Police Chief Roger Deal offers tips to local parents in the hopes that the horrific events that have happened in other parts of the country will not be repeated here.
   "The number one tip I can give you is to have a good line of communication with your children," Deal said, referring to a plan of action to keep children from being kidnapped inside the home.
   "Have them tell you all of their concerns. I would recommend that you talk to all of your children, especially your young children, about abductions.
   "It's best to talk to them now and get them to understand it. They can cope with it better at an early age, than if it's too late and somebody grabs them and you've never had that conversation. Talk to them often about their concerns and about safety issues.
   "Parents need to know who lives next door to them. They need to know their neighbors and know the type of people they are. I'm not saying to go stick your nose in your neighbors' business all the time, but you need to know what's safe for your family and how close danger is."
   Parents should never assume that their children will not be abducted, "no matter where you live. Elizabethton is probably one of the nicest towns in the United States. We have a low crime rate, but we do have our problems. We do have our strangers. We have our pedophiles. Never assume that your child will never be targeted for abduction. And always plan and act as though it could happen. Never leave your children unattended at home, in a parked car, shopping cart, in a public restroom or in a park. Always stay with them. Stay close to them."
   Children should know their full name, the full names of their parents, address, and telephone number, including area code, Deal said. "Teach them to use a telephone at a young age," he said. "And one of the first things you want to teach them about a telephone is 9-1-1."
   If an intruder tries to kidnap a child from inside the home, Deal encourages children to try to escape. "A child should always try to gain their freedom, or hide if they don't know the abductor," he said. "The best thing they can do at that point is to flee and call 9-1-1."
   If a perpetrator attempts to kidnap a child from a public place, Deal says the child's voice is a great weapon. "One of the best things a child can do there is to use their voice as a weapon," Deal said.
   "Not only shouting and crying, but shouting the words, 'I don't know you! Help me! I don't know you!' That will draw more attention than just some kid crying, because it's not unusual to go to a public place and hear a baby or a young child cry. So if they shout those words, that will draw more attention. They should also try to run and get away, to get their freedom."
   Deal says the effective use of martial arts by children for self defense depends on the age and weight of each child. "I'm all for that," he said. "I think it promotes good physical fitness, as well as well being a good defensive measure in case it's needed. But I wouldn't want to depend on that alone for a child being safe."
   The EPD encourages parents to photograph their children, "especially the preschoolers, quarterly," said Deal. "If they are a little bit older, do it annually." Height, birthmarks, scars, should be documented.
   "We'll even assist with fingerprinting," said Deal, who advises families to install a good security system.
   "Kids Safety Day" will be sponsored by the Elizabethton Kiwanis Club at Kiwanis Park at the intersection of West G Street and Carter Boulevard on Sept. 14 at 8 a.m.
   Parents should have birth certificates, dental records, doctors' information and x-rays on hand, Deal said. "Rather than relying on your memory in a stressful and emotional state, you'll have that information already available, which will speed up the process of recovery."
   Depending on the classification, kidnapping can carry a penalty of from 3-25 years, according to Deal. Additional time can be added for rape. Murder carries a penalty of life in prison or the death penalty.
   A person who would kidnap a child and use that child for sexual gratification or for a feeling of power "is a very deranged individual...," Deal said. "It's a very disturbed individual."