Holly Pierce was horrified one October afternoon when her 8-year-old son rushed home and told her, through tears, that a man had tried to lure him into his car as he rode his bike in their Parker neighborhood.
He came in screaming and crying. He was inconsolable, and he was frantic, Pierce said. All he saw was someone waving, and he thought: What else could that mean but get in the car? ... We kept saying, Are you sure? Are you sure? Tell us again. But we wanted to let him know we believed him, too. She called the police.
The case was among scores of reports of abduction attempts that have landed on detectives desks throughout the Denver-metro area in the weeks since 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway was kidnapped and killed while leaving her Westminster home for school.
And like many of them, Pierces incident turned out to be a misunderstanding. The man Pierces son believed was trying to draw him into his sedan had pulled to the side of the road to look up an address on his phone, Parker police said. He had stopped to let the boy cross, motioning with his hand for him to go ahead. Startled to see a picture of his car on the news, the man came forward to say he was not a predator, he was just lost.
Police encourage children and parents vigilance, especially in light of Jessicas slaying. The suspect charged in her death, 17-year-old Austin Sigg, is also accused of trying to kidnap a woman in May. But police also note that the firestorm that followed has detectives spending countless hours investigating a crime that is rare.
There are about 115 stranger abductions of children in the United States each year, a number that is not rising despite the rush of public attention given to it after it happens or almost happens, or seems to have happened. Abduction attempts, or child enticements, as many police agencies classify them, also are rare, but they are harder for law enforcement to quantify, as what can appear to a young child as a crime might not always be considered one.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation says it doesnt keep track of such abduction tries throughout the state. And while local agencies monitor the reports, they dont always keep a running count. Colorado defines a true child enticement as a situation in which a person tries to lure someone younger than age 15 to a secluded place specifically to commit sexual assault or contact.
You have to prove intent, said Denver police Sgt. Julie Wheaton, who oversees the citys sex-assault squad. And that part is particularly difficult.Denver classified 22 incidents as child enticements in 2010 and 30 last year, though police estimate just one or two of those fit the definition under the law.
Others might be just as troubling but a challenge to solve. A childs memory could be foggy. Evidence may be scarce. A witness sees something that isnt so. Or maybe there is no witness.
Sometimes, we get a call for a guy looking at kids. Officers come across him; he doesnt have a great story of why hes sitting there. Say hes even a sex offender, Wheaton said. What can we do with that? What if the caller says he was talking to a kid, but the kid is gone? Were still going to talk to him, but what can we do beyond that? Almost nothing. Even so, the Ridgeway case has police urging communities to remain vigilant and report all strange behavior. And as a result, such reports are on the rise.
Denver has already clocked 30 child enticements this year the same amount as in all of 2011 and other agencies have also seen a recent increase.