Parents in Winnipeg's Fort Rouge neighbourhood are shocked to learn that a man tried to abduct an 11-year-old girl who was walking to school on Wednesday.

Abduction suspect

Winnipeg police on Thursday released this sketch of a suspect wanted in connection with the attempted abduction a day earlier of an 11-year-old girl in the area of Arbuthnot Street and Warsaw Avenue. (Winnipeg Police Service)

An 11-year-old girl was walking to school just before 9 a.m. Wednesday  in the area of Arbuthnot Street and Warsaw Avenue  when a man grabbed her by the arm and attempted to pull her down Arbuthnot, police said.

"They intersected and it was at that point that he grabbed her," Const. Eric Hofley told CBC News.

"What his intentions are, you know, that remains to be seen once we've identified the individual and have spoken with him."

The girl was able to break free of his grip and run home.

The incident happened about one block from Earl Grey School.

School officials told CBC News that letters are being sent home with students of both Earl Grey School and École La Vérendrye on Thursday.

Extra staff were on hand during lunch and recess breaks on Wednesday, as news of the incident broke, according to the Winnipeg School Division.

"I was actually shocked. I thought this neighbourhood is fairly safe," said Jamie Ramirez, who lives in the neighbourhood and walks her three young children to school.

"So it was a little scary, to say the least."

Suspect sketch released

On Thursday, police released a sketch of the suspect, who is described as being 50 to 60 years of age, short with a small build and a mole on his face.

He was wearing a black jacket, blue jeans, a maroon tuque with a pompom, and had a scarf around his mouth.

The investigation is continuing by members of the police service's child abuse unit.

Anyone with information on the identity of the suspect is asked to contact investigators at 204-986-3296 or Crime Stoppers at 204-786-TIPS (8477).

Police say the man was walking at the time of the incident, meaning he may live nearby, so they are asking area residents to be on the lookout for him.

Carla Van Gorp, whose children go to Earl Grey School, said she saw police patrolling in the area on Thursday morning.

"Thank goodness that girl had enough sense to … shake him off and, like, run. But you have to start teaching 'stranger danger,'" she said, her voice breaking.

3 tips for talking to children about safety

The girl in the Fort Rouge attempted abduction case did everything right, said Noni Classen, director of education with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.

Classen says parents should have regular conversations with their children about personal safety. Here are three tips for parents:

1. Have conversations appropriate to your child's age.

Classen said adults need to know that an attempted abduction has taken place, but there is "different information that children need to learn … so it needs to be age-appropriate."

The association has information on its website about what children should know about being safe.

2. Don't raise children's fears.

Classen said talking to children about safety should be done in a way that builds up their confidence and competence around personal safety, not in a way that makes them feel more vulnerable.

"It needs to be something that's matter-of-fact," she said.

"It doesn't need to be emotionally charged, with a fear base to it. It's just about ways they could help increase their safety."

3. Don't say, 'Don't talk to strangers'

Classen said parents should refrain from telling children not to talk to strangers, since children often think of "strangers" as scary people.

"For kids, it's too abstract a term … they often equate that to someone who's scary," she said.

"As soon as they're not scary and they're nice, the 'stranger' doesn't work anymore."

The association says the reality is that many child abductions are committed by people who are known to the child.

As well, people who want to abduct children will be nice and friendly to them in order to gain their trust.

"Rather than safety education focusing on the concept of 'stranger danger,' it is far more effective to teach children not to go anywhere with anyone without first getting permission from their parents," the centre says in a fact sheet for families.

(Source: "Reduce Your Child’s Risk of Abduction," Canadian Centre for Child Protection)