An attempted abduction and similar recent incidents involving children in Winnipeg are prompting officials to offer safety tips to both children and their parents.
Winnipeg police say a 10-year-old girl was the target of an attempted abduction in the city's Crestview neighbourhood on Wednesday afternoon.
The girl was walking in the area of Lumsden Avenue and Kay Crescent at about 4 p.m. when a man grabbed her by the arm and said, "Let’s go to Hedges," police said, referring to Hedges Middle School nearby.
The girl was able to break free and run off. Police were then called.
The man is described as being six feet tall, about 25-30 years old, clean-shaven with a skinny build, black hair and scars on both hands. He was wearing a white shirt and black pants.
Anyone with information on the incident or suspect is asked to contact investigators at 204-986-2877 or Crime Stoppers at 204-786-TIPS (8477).
Crestview families on edge after attempted abduction
Brett Kirkby said he was holding his daughter's hand a little tighter.
He received a letter from her Lakewood School, along with other families, that the child who was almost abducted was in fact a Lakewood student, a 10-year-old girl.
Kirkby's daughter is seven.
"What if it was someone younger?" he said. "Or somebody who didn't maybe have her strength? It's just really upsetting."
Parents with children at both Hedges and other schools in the neighbourhood said they, too, were worried.
Daniel Blaquera has an 11-year-old daughter at Hedges and a 10-year-old son at Buchanan Elementary School.
"I feel really bad about it," he said.
Anne Gieg said she always tells her 11-year-old daughter, a student at Hedges, to be careful.
"I always advise my kid to stay within a group," she said. "Don't go into isolated areas."
Judy Goodman said her advice as a mother is to run kids through scenarios.
"It's real life," she said. "Kids are easily persuaded if they're animal lovers, if they're candy lovers."
Brett Kirby admits the attempted abduction has him second-guessing himself now about how to keep his daughter safe.
"Eventually I'd like to have her ride her bike, 'cause we're only two blocks from the school," he said. "It's not an easy decision now."
Man approached children outside school
Earlier this week, parents in the city's Lindenwoods neighbourhood were warned about a man approaching children outside a school twice in a two-week period.
In the more recent case, several children were playing outside Van Walleghem School when a man pulled up in a blue minivan, called out, "Hey, get in my car," and opened the rear sliding door.
The children ran away and police were called.
"It's a little bizarre that somebody would come back a second time into a community," Susan Schmidt, assistant superintendent of student services with the Pembina Trails School Division, told CBC News on Monday.
"I think what's really important is parents need to know where their kids are, and kids need to tell their parents where they are."
Schmidt said teachers have since stepped up lessons from a safety program called Kids in the Know. As well, letters were sent home to parents warning them of the incidents.
Tips for being safe
The Kids in the Know program is offered by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.
On Thursday, officials said children will be playing outside more often now that the weather is warmer, so it's important for parents and caregivers to talk to their children about being safe.
"We know that 'stranger danger' is an outdated and ineffective safety message in reducing a child’s risk of abduction and victimization,” Christy Dzikowicz of MissingKids.ca, a program of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, stated in a news release.
"We need to teach children not to go anywhere with anyone without first receiving permission from their parents or guardians."
Some other safety strategies that children should use include:
- Using the buddy system when going places.
- Trusting their instincts — if someone makes them feel uncomfortable, they should shout, "No!" and run and tell someone they trust.
The organization also has a tip sheet for parents who want information about how to speak to children of different ages about being safe.
Schmidt said while the Pembina Trails School Division is teaching students how to protect themselves, staff don't want children to be scared.
"I hope these things don't happen frequently, but when they do, they are very alarming," she said.
"But we want our kids to feel safe and resilient and cared for in the community. That's the most important thing for every child."