The Sweet Home Police Department on Tuesday issued a warning to residents to watch for strangers in vans attempting to pick up children after receiving two reports last week.
In the first, according to an agency release, a woman reported that her two granddaughters were walking home from Hawthorne Elementary School shortly after noon Wednesday, July 21, when they were approached by two men in a red and black van with Washington plates. The men asked the children if they wanted to see the puppies inside their vehicle. The Sweet Home School District sent a letter to families regarding the incident.
In the second, undated incident, a mother reported that while discussing the letter with her daughter, the young girl said she was offered a ride to Sweet Home Junior High School by a man in a beige or metallic tan van with a sliding door. During the ride, he reportedly made comments that made her uncomfortable, but she was able to exit the vehicle at her destination. She recalled the van's interior as unkempt and rank, with torn, leather-like seats. The driver was described as a heavyset man in his 50s or 60s, with a darker complexion; brown, graying hair; face moles and a 5 o'clock shadow. He was wearing a brown shirt and dark bottoms she wasn't able to identify as pants or shorts. He reportedly spoke English, with no accent.
“It is not clear if these two reports are connected,” Police Chief Jeff Lynn said in the release. “At this point, we’re asking for the public’s help and ask that anyone with information contact us as quickly as possible.
“While child abduction cases involving strangers are rare, less than 1% of abductions, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, they can and do occur. We recommend that parents teach their children to stay out of vehicles with strangers. Have that talk with your children. Meanwhile, we’ll work on locating these vans and their occupants.”
Anyone with information should contact the Police Department at (541) 367-5181.
TIPS FOR CHILDREN:
• Stay away from strangers.
• Stay away from anyone following you on foot or in a car.
• Run and scream if someone tries to force you to go somewhere or push you into a car.
• Memorize a secret word. Parents should advise their children not to leave with anyone unless that person knows the word.
• Adults shouldn’t ask children for help with directions or finding a puppy or kitten, for example. Children should respond, “Wait here, and I’ll check with my mom or dad.”
• Ask for help when you are lost. If you're lost in a public place, ask an employee.
• Always ask for permission before going anywhere with anybody. Ask a parent or grownup in charge before leaving a yard or play area or before entering someone’s home. Never accept unplanned offers for a ride.
• Always tell a parent where you're going, how you'll get there, who's accompanying you, and when you'll return. Be home on time or find a way to contact home directly.
TIPS FOR PARENTS:
• Be prepared with a good description of your child. Have a close-up photo taken every six months. Keep track of and write down details about your child’s appearance, including height and weight, eye color, birthmarks, scars, and identifiable mannerisms, such as hair-twisting.
• Have your child fingerprinted. Check with your local police department for information.
• Stay calm. You are more likely to remember helpful details if you remain calm.