WILLCOX — Do you know the code word?
Children in grades 4-6 were gathered in the high school auditorium last Thursday to listen to Chief of Public Safety Dale Hadfield discuss stranger danger.
The informational lecture follows two individuals in the Willcox area attempting to coerce area children into their vehicles after school started last month. These individuals have yet to be identified or apprehended by police.
Because of the incidents, the Willcox Unified School District as well as the Willcox Police Department have encouraged residents within the community to teach their children on the importance of avoiding contact with strangers.
“How many of you guys ever had your parents have somebody come pick you up that you’ve never met before?” Hadfield asked the students.
More than 20 Willcox students raised their hands, indicating that they had been given a ride home by someone they had never met before.
“Really? You guys have gotten into cars with people you don’t know?” Hadfield asked.
The auditorium erupted as children tried to explain in mixed tones as the police personnel and attending adults glanced around at each other. After this, Hadfield stressed the importance of having a code word within family circles in an effort to keep children safe from predators posing as family or authority figures.
“If you don’t know them, don’t get in the car with them,” Hadfield said.
“That’s scary (the kids admitting to have ridden home with a stranger). That’s the biggest thing we’re worried about right there. We want to have the parents sit down and have a conversation with their kids about this and be vigilant. School is a safe zone, but to and from school can be treacherous at times,” said Willcox Middle School Principal Mike Patterson.
“The biggest thing is to get the word out to the kids. We want to be proactive. There has already been a couple instances where somebody has tried to pick up the kids, so we’re trying to make the kids and the parents aware as much as we can. That was the purpose of the assembly today.”