It’s every parent’s nightmare – losing his or her child in a kidnapping.
Iriana DeJesus would have turned 17 this year. She could have been halfway through her junior year in high school and been looking at colleges.
But in 2000, 5-year-old Iriana was kidnapped, raped and strangled to death. Her body was found discarded in a building only one block from her house. At 5, her life ended and her mother’s was changed forever.
Patricia Rivera, a mother from Olney visiting Hunting Park, said she believes child safety is a big issue for her and her 7-year-old son in North Philadelphia. However, her concerns are more with gun violence.
“I just keep him by my side,” Rivera said. “If he’s not with me, he’s with my family. I don’t let him go outside much, [there are] too many shootings.”
Rivera’s mother, Julia Redding, also said she sees a threat from wandering eyes in addition to those from stray bullets.
“I was walking down the street and a 40-year-old man started yelling at my daughter,” Redding said.
The man, yelling from across the street, made lewd comments about her teen daughter’s body until Redding informed the man she was her mother after which he quickly disappeared.
“If I hadn’t been there, I don’t know what would have happened,” Redding said. “There are perverts out there.”
Astonishingly, as a 13-year-old girl, Redding’s daughter falls into the highest risk category for child abduction, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
National Safety Director Nancy McBride said that last year, the NCMEC conducted an analysis of 6,000 attempted abductions.
“A female child between the ages of 10-14 is the most vulnerable for attempted abduction,” McBride said. “That may be a surprise for the general public, but it actually makes sense because they are the kids who are given more freedom. They’re out on their own.”
The NCMEC is trying to move away from the “stranger danger” method of educating children because children have different views on what constitutes a stranger than adults and the added chance that even family and non-strangers may pose a risk.
“What we need to be telling our kids,” McBride said, “is if anyone makes them feel unsafe or uncomfortable, they should do everything they can to get away. Kicking, screaming, fighting.”
The recent abduction attempt of a 7-year-old girl from a Wal-Mart in Georgia revealed how that persistence can pay off. Security cameras caught the girl kicking and screaming even after the attacker tried to cover her mouth. Finally, the attacker dropped the girl and fled the store. Police later apprehended the suspect.
Capt. Frank Vanore, from the 25th Police District, suggested that parents educate their children on being safe.
“People don’t realize how easy it is for someone who is a predator to lure a child,” Vanore said. “We really need to talk to our kids about how to not to approach people that they don’t know.”
Vanore also said he believes that the community as a whole can do its part to get involved.
“I think many years ago, many people in the neighborhood kind of watched out for each others kids,” Vanore said. “I think that’s what we need to get back to.”
For more information on child safety and abduction awareness, the NCMEC has resources at its website, www.missingkids.com.