Children learn to say 'no' to strangers' temptations
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 17, 2012
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — “What do you do if a stranger grabs you?” was the question posed to about 200 children gathered for a “stranger danger” session, one of several scheduled in the wake of reports of children having been molested on base.
The last of three incidents was reported April 24, officials said, but authorities have yet to apprehend a suspect for whom they say they have only a generic description.
“No new cases have been reported and we have no new developments in the ongoing investigation,” said Juan Melendez, a spokesman for the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Base.
Following a contentious town hall meeting May 2, during which parents demanded to know why they had not been informed sooner and what authorities were doing to protect their children, the Kaiserslautern Military Community has held a number of sessions to educate parents and children and has imposed stricter child supervision rules.
On Wednesday afternoon, children ages 5 to 12 filled gym bleachers at the Vogelweh Youth Center. When Tech. Sgt. Anthony Harris of the 569th U.S. Forces Police Squadron asked what they would do if grabbed by a stranger, a 12-year-old girl responded: “I would fight and scream.”
The role-playing session was one of four scheduled that day at Vogelweh and Ramstein for different age groups. Harris and two of his colleagues quizzed the youngsters on their “stranger danger” savvy, basing their questions on actual scenarios, Harris said.
“What if someone comes up to you in a car and says they want to show you ‘my puppies’? What are you going to do?” Harris asked. “If someone opens up their trunk and says ‘I have puppies or kittens in the back of my car,’ never, ever approach that car.”
A stranger “can lure you with more than just candy,” Airman 1st Class Donovan Garrett told the kids. “It can be games: ‘Want to check out my games?’ ‘I’ve lost my pet.’ ‘Can you help me find my pet?’ ”
There have been two reports of child molestations and one of attempted abduction of a child on Kaiserslautern-area military bases dating back to August.
The incidents have prompted stricter child supervision rules, with children ages 5 and 6 no longer permitted to play unattended in the yard or at the playground, nor walk to school or to the bus stop without a parent or appropriate caregiver.
At Wednesday’s session, Garrett, Harris and Tech. Sgt. Corey Strother advised children not to walk through or play in the woods on base alone, and not to go into a stranger’s home.
“The point is to be safe: Make sure your parents know where you are going and make sure you’re always with somebody, a partner or a buddy,” Garrett said.
In an interview afterward, Harris said they also are telling children not to go into the stairwell housing basement areas by themselves.
Garrett told the children the suspect was wearing part of a military uniform. At two town hall meetings earlier this month, base officials said one of the victims described the suspect as wearing Army camouflage pants, a tan-greenish T-shirt and tan combat boots.
Military law enforcement officials are tailoring their message to different age groups, Harris said.
“With the older kids, we’re being more frank and direct, not necessarily to scare them, but to make them aware, because they understand what can happen,” he said.
Base officials said this week that they are moving ahead with a request from residents to stand up a neighborhood watch program in base communities. The 86th Security Forces Squadron and the 569th U.S. Forces Police Squadron plan to hold a series of meetings later this month to inform KMC housing residents on how they can assist security forces in keeping children and neighborhoods safe, base officials said. The meetings are scheduled for May 29, 30 and 31, from 5-7 p.m., in Ramstein’s Hercules Theater for Ramstein residents, and in the Vogelweh School Liaison Office, Bldg. 2787, for Vogelweh and Landstuhl residents. Melendez said base residents need attend only one of the meetings.
Adults who work with youths on base also are being more vigilant, said Charles Harris, Vogelweh Youth Center programs director. An unknown individual walking along the center’s fence line recently drew the staff’s notice, Harris said. Someone who questioned him reported the man said he was looking for his lost dog.
“I guess we are on our toes and being very suspicious,” he said.