Code Word Saves Arizona Girl, 11, From Possible Abduction: Police
SAN TAN VALLEY, AZ — Brenda James didn’t figure her children would have to use the “code word” the Arizona family came up with to keep them safe in situations where they might be harmed. But the rarely used tactic helped save an 11-year-old girl’s life in the Phoenix suburb of San Tan Valley, and authorities in Pinal County are encouraging other parents to adopt it.
The girl was approached the afternoon of Nov. 7 by a man driving a white SUV as she and a friend were walking in a neighborhood about 300 yards from the girl’s house, Pinal County Sheriff’s Office public information officer Navideh Forghani told Patch. The man reportedly tried to lure the girl into the car by telling her that her brothers had been hurt in a serious car accident and she needed to go with him.
When she asked him the code word, he was unable to give it and drove away, Forghani said.
“We came up with a code word, and this one time, it saved my daughter’s life,” James told Phoenix television station KSAZ. “She told me that a guy tried to take her.
“I never thought it would be used,” James continued, “but I’m proud of her for remembering that and knowing to use that.”
Many children today have cellphones with GPS tracking units that allow parents to keep track of where their children are, Forghani said, making the code words a bit obsolete. But
Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb said more parents should consider using the tactic.
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“Kudos to the parents of this child for having a code word and talking about to their children about stranger danger,” Lamb said in a statement posted on the agency’s Facebook page. “We hope by putting this out, it will encourage parents to have that conversation and create a plan with their children so they know what to do if they are in that situation.”
Forghani also thinks code words should be revived.
“I think this old-school skill that parents haven’t given their kids, but I think it’s an important plan C,” she said. “If they don’t have phone, this is backup.
“This girl was smart,” Forghani told Patch. “You always wonder if kids are listening when you tell them not to talk to strangers.”
When authorities investigated, other children in the neighborhood reported seeing a white SUV similar to a Ford Explorer circling the neighborhood park several times a day, the sheriff’s office said. The man was described as a white male, possibly in his 40s, with a short beard. The girl told police the man covered most of his face when he was talking so she wouldn’t be able to identify him. Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff’s office at (520) 866-5111.
Forghani said it’s unclear if the man had profiled the girl and knew she had siblings, or if it was “a lucky guess.” Another parent told James she had seen a vehicle similar to the one the 11-year-old reported driving slowly in the park area, but didn’t notify police, Forghani said.
None of the children interviewed by police could recall a license plate number, Forghani said, adding that parents should talk to their kids about the importance of jotting down information like that to help police.
In addition to giving their children a code word, parents should also take care not to put their children’s names on their clothing or a backpack. That could be used by a potential kidnapper to feign familiarity and lure a child into a dangerous situation, Forghani said.
“People say it all the time, but you can’t talk to kids enough,” she said. “If they don’t listen, pull up a story [on this incident] the internet and show them what happened.”
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