The child abduction stories that feed parents' fears

 

When an incident like this appears in the papers as ‘an attempted kidnapping’, it just creates unnecessary panic for parents and kids

THE SCHOOL DAY was just beginning when the texts started to filter through to parents’ phones. According to the messages, somebody had tried to abduct a 10-year-old girl on her way to school.

The alleged incident occurred on Boghall Road in Bray, Co Wicklow, last Wednesday week at 8.35am. The girl says she was waiting for a friend before walking the last few hundred metres to Bray School Project National School just around the corner on Killarney Road.

Then a man pulled up in a white Volkswagen, possibly a Golf or a Polo, and, she says, chatted to her briefly before picking her up, bundling her on to the back seat and driving off.

The abduction was foiled, the girl says, when, just a short distance away, the car ran into morning rush-hour traffic and came to a halt, giving her a chance to get out and run to safety. She ran to school, where staff immediately put a reaction operation in place, sending for the child’s parents and alerting the Garda.

A warning text to hundreds of parents read: “Regret to inform you that a child in school was involved in an attempted abduction on Boghall Rd this morning. A male in his 30s, white VW Golf. Vigilance advised.”

An investigation began at Bray Garda station. Specialist interviewers, skilled at dealing with traumatised child witnesses, were drafted in. An appeal for information was made. The media became interested, writing about and reporting the brave young girl who had escaped from a kidnapper’s car, and about the horror of parents of other pupils at Bray School Project.

Ten days later, after considerable Garda time and effort have gone into investigating the case, no further evidence has emerged. Nearby CCTV has found no white car.

The alleged incident occurred on a very busy road at the height of rush hour and involved a 10-year-old girl jumping from a car and dashing through traffic, yet no witnesses have come forward.

The 10-year-old’s account is rightly being treated seriously, but one Garda source familiar with the case expressed exasperation to The Irish Times about the level of media interest generated by the alleged incident.

Gardaí say that in cases such as this, children can become confused, or misinterpret as sinister a benign exchange with a passing pedestrian or motorist.

Other Garda sources expressed their surprise and frustration at coverage of two subsequent “attempted abductions” in Dublin and Co Cavan.

On Friday, June 17th, two days after the allegations in Bray, another case was reported in Clonskeagh, in south Dublin. At about 7.45am on Clonskeagh Road a 12-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy were walking to St Kilian’s German School when one of two men in a white BMW shouted to attract their attention. The children ignored the shouts and continued on to school, where teachers later informed the Garda of the incident. Schools in the area texted parents to tell them what had unfolded.

Gardaí told The Irish Times this week that while they must treat seriously any approaches made to schoolchildren, the men in Clonskeagh did not try to grab the children or even get out of their car. “But when word circulates that we’re investigating an incident like this, and then it appears in the papers as ‘an attempted kidnapping’, it just creates unnecessary panic for parents and kids.”

Another Garda source points out that, aside from parents taking their children away from estranged partners, child abductions are unheard of in the Republic.

Neither Bray School Project nor St Kilian’s had any comment to make when contacted by The Irish Times this week.

THE IRISH NATIONAL TEACHERS’ Organisation says that schools always report incidents to the Garda and take any advice offered. The trade union’s president, Noreen Flynn, adds that while part of a school’s response to any serious incident is to pass on information to parents, it will also try to dispel rumours.

Flynn adds that while the Stay Safe programme in national schools warns children never to go anywhere with a stranger, it also teaches them that “most strangers are nice people”.

In the most recent case involving a child it was a concerned parent rather than a school that made a report to the Garda. The incident occurred in Belturbet, Co Cavan, at 3.15pm on Tuesday when a motorist in a blue or purple Audi is alleged to have asked a boy walking home from school to get into his car on Bridge Street. The boy reportedly ignored the motorist and continued on his way home. His mother decided several hours later that the matter should be reported.

A Garda source familiar says the media’s reaction was more panicky than the boy or his mother. “A story quickly started doing the rounds within the media that the guy in the car told the boy he had been sent by the boy’s mother to collect him but that the boy’s mother was dead, so he obviously knew the motorist was lying.

“But the boy’s mother isn’t dead. It was her who reported the incident to us, so the media story was rubbish. But that’s what you’re dealing with with these cases.”