Safety expert offers tips to avoid abduction
(CNN) – A number of cases involving young girls missing and found dead has placed new emphasis on child safety.
Police on Wednesday said that a body found in rural Southern California was that of kidnapped 5-year-old Samantha Runnion. The girl was kidnapped on Monday in front of her home.
Meanwhile, authorities and family members continue to search for Elizabeth Smart, a 14-year-old who was kidnapped from her Utah home early last month.
At the same time, a trial continues in suburban San Diego, where a man is accused of kidnapping and killing 7-year-old Danielle van Dam earlier this year.
In the Runnion case, authorities said Samantha's naked body was found Tuesday in adjacent Riverside, 75 miles from the girl's home in Stanton. Investigators think the girl was sexually assaulted and that a serial attacker committed the crime.
The cause of death has not been determined, investigators said.
The cases underscore the need for parents to teach children how to avoid being seized, and to learn escape methods if they are, said Bob Stuber of the Texas-based Escape School, which runs educational programs across the United States.
Stuber, a former police officer and founder of the Escape School, told CNN that even very young children might learn to resist and escape an abductor.
The suspect in the Runnion case reportedly asked the victim and a friend to help locate a puppy. Such a tactic is common, Stuber said: Young children are especially vulnerable to requests for help, because they are trusting and seek validation.
"They're very, very trusting," Stuber said. "And this is something that parents really have to get down on and start driving that message home, is that you don't walk away with anybody. If they need help, they will get it from another adult."
Stuber said children could use various techniques to avoid being in the car of a stranger.
"All the way along in a crime like this, there's these little windows of opportunity," he said. "And if the child knows what to watch for, it really only takes about two of these choices to get them out of danger."
Among the techniques children can use to prevent being inside a car, Stuber said, are:
-- Velcro technique: Children cannot only yell out for help, they can grab hold of an adult for help. "Now I'm involved in her situation," Stuber said. "She'll tell me what she wants, and I will pay attention."
-- Windmill technique. If somebody is bigger and stronger than the child, the child rotates his or her arm forward in a big circle, preventing the would-be attacker from grabbing hold. "She turns my hand inside out, and puts me in a position where I'm the weakest," Stuber said.
-- A third technique involves using a bicycle, Stuber said. If a would-be abductor attempts to grab a child off a bike, the child can "hug" the bicycle, making abduction difficult, if not impossible.
Techniques for a child inside an abductor's car are also simple, Stuber said. The first thing Stuber tells a child is to open the door and get out. Children need to make a lot of noise at the very beginning of this whole process, Stuber said.
If it's a four-door car, the child can jump into the back seat and go out the back door really quickly, he said.
Stuber said in these types of crimes, the child is not going to get hurt at this point.
"He [the abductor] wants to get out somewhere by himself. He may threaten the child, but he's not going to hurt the child right there. That's not what this is about. That takes place later."
Another technique, Stuber said, for a child inside the car, is to place an object in the ignition cylinder, where the key goes in. It can be a stick. It can be a button off their clothing. Bubble gum even works. Once they do that, they can't get the key back in.
"If you can't get the key in to start the car, this isn't going to go any further, and that's the key to the whole thing, stopping it."
Stuber said that if the car can be stopped or the potential crime can be stopped in the neighborhood, then the crime is going to come to an end.
Stuber also had advice for children placed in a trunk: disconnect the taillights by finding a panel in the back corner of just about every car.
"Anybody can pull that panel off. Inside are the wires. If you pull those wires, you disconnect the brake and taillights. Now you increased the odds 50 percent that the police will pull the car over because it has not brake or tail lights, then they will hear you inside."
Simple actions such as blowing a whistle are among the strongest deterrents, Stuber said.
"It's all about common sense," he said. "It's all about taking advantage of little opportunities as they present themselves. And it isn't very hard for a child to do."
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