Does your Child Know Who a Stranger Really Is?

Over the past few months, the headlines have been filled with stories about kidnapped children including Danielle Van Dam, Elizabeth Smart, Samantha Runnion and just two days ago, Cassandra Williamson. Those are just some of the names that have become familiar to us and many of the cases have ended in tragedy. Some South Mississippi parents say the child abductions they're hearing about in the news has them concerned about their kids' safety and they're keeping a more watchful eye on their children.

"I'm more careful in where I let the kids go and how they're unsupervised," said parent Henry Bingham. "Where before we might have let them wander and do things, but now I'm more cautious in where they go and what they do."

Daniel and Melissa Nugent say they've warned their children about the dangers of talking to strangers.

Daniel Nugent said, "If anybody talks to them they usually come to us and let us know. They know not to go with strangers or talk to them or accept anything from them."

When questioned, the Nugents' nine-year-old son Devon reiterated what his father said about how he was not supposed to talk to strangers, but then we asked him another question.

"What is a stranger? Do you know?," I asked. "Uh like my Paw Paw Roger?" answered Devon.

Devon's parents were shocked and his mother Melissa said, "I guess because you take for granted they automatically know not to talk to strangers but they really don't."

Local police say since parents can't be with their children 24 hours a day 7 days a week, their best defense against abductions is to educate their children and themselves. Police say some well-meaning parents aren't correctly teaching their kids about who a stranger is.

"I think we're cheating our children when we don't sit down and make sure they thoroughly understand what a stranger is," said Biloxi police Sergeant Jackie Rhodes. "A stranger is not necessarily just someone the child doesn't know as I said stranger is someone that a parent hasn't introduced the child to."

Police say there's a reason that just telling children that a stranger is "someone they don't know" doesn't work anymore. They say some child predators will make a light acquaintance with a child to gain trust and no longer be considered a stranger. Police say children need to understand that if mom and dad don't know the person, he or she is still a stranger.

In some of the recent kidnapping cases, the children were taken from inside their own homes. Biloxi police sergeant Jackie Rhodes says parents need to be very careful about who they allow to come into their homes.