June 1, 2012
Gaywood Elementary School students received a simple chant about what to do when approached by a stranger.
“Run, run — yell, yell — tell, tell,” said Landover Hills resident Derrica Wilson, as part of a National Missing Children’s Day on May 25 at the Seabrook school. Wilson and her sister-in-law Natalie, founded a website that posts information about missing persons and children abducted by strangers.
The Wilsons founded the nonprofit Black & Missing Foundation and the 18.104.22.168 national website in 2008, after saying they felt that people of color were underrepresented in media alerts sent out about missing people.
“We’re an additional resource,” said Derrica Wilson, a former police officer in Falls Church, Va. “We help distribute fliers, help with searches and we have major partnerships with national media.”
Derrica Wilson said her trip to Gaywood was the first time she’d visited a Prince George’s County school to talk to children. She said she asked Principal Ingrid Reynolds-Lawson at Gaywood Elementary if she could speak there first, because her son is a student there.
Wilson said the most important things children need to do are to get away from the person or yell for help if you are grabbed, then report what happened to an adult.
One thing children especially need to know is that not every stranger wears a ski mask, said Derrica Wilson.
“Not all bad people look mean and scary,” Derrica Wilson said.
To illustrate, a female county police officer in a pink shirt and jeans beckoned two students to come over to her, gave them a candy bar and walked out of the auditorium with them to show how potentially easy it is to lure young children.
Wilson warned students to be wary if someone drives close in a car asking for directions or asks for help looking for a lost dog.
One student said he was walking home from Gaywood one day when a man in a car invited him to look inside and see the leather seats.
When the student said “no,” the man said, “Don’t you like me?” and gave him a mean look, said the student.
Derrica Wilson said reporting an incident to a parent, a teacher, a police officer or calling 911 may prevent a predator from approaching other children.
“I think I learned a lot about safety,” said second-grader Brea Brittingham, 8.
School volunteer Tanya Thompson, whose granddaughter goes to Gaywood, welcomed more visits by the Wilsons and police as a way to educate students about what to do if they are approached.
“I think this should be done twice a year, at the beginning of school and prior to summer, when children also need to be aware of their surroundings,” she said.
Photo credit: Gratisography on Pexels