"It's scary,"a Redmond mother saidThursday.
"I did panic and I went over the precautions with my children," said Angie Magnuson, a mother of two children attending Vern Patrick Elementary School.
Those were common reactions from Redmond parents, alarmed there could be a predator lurking near their children's school.
For weeks now, Redmond police have been investigating several cases where children near Vern Patrick Lynch Elementary schools, Obsidian Middle School and the Redmond Proficiency Academy reported a man in a van offering them rides and following them-- the most recent case just last week: Police say two little girls were followed leaving Vern Patrick after school.
"(The man was asking) essentially, 'Do you want a ride to school?' And then the subject was reported to follow the children to school," Redmond School Resource Officer Leland Gilbert said Thursday.
Gilbert said the department doesn't have any specific descriptions of a suspect or a vehicle.
"A minivan and a male driver," Gilbert said. "That's been the consistent part of the report."
Gilbert said the minivan is reported to be older, and could be a grayish or bluish-green in color.
He said the man is described as being between the ages of 30 and 60.
The series of reports prompted the schools to send out letters warning parents. One school letter said in part, "Although we do not have specific information that any of our children are in danger, we want to take every precaution possible."
Those are precautions nearby parents are taking to heart.
"I do send them walking to school by themselves," Magnuson said of her kids. "But I make sure it's when everyone else is walking as well, so there's groups."
Gilbert said if you can't take your children to school yourself, there's strength in numbers.
"I'd prefer groups of four to five kids at minimum," he said.
In the meantime, police are stepping up patrols near schools, educating kids on stranger danger and asking your help.
"The kids who have been involved in these reports have done a great job of running from the scene, not engaging in conversation with the individual," Gilbert said. "So really, the only thing we're struggling with at this point is getting an accurate description."
The Redmond School District and Police Department issued a rare joint "safety notice" Thursday afternoon, advising that several students have been approached in neighborhoods after school over the past week, offering them a ride home.
"The Redmond Police Department would like to advise parents that the police are aware of the situation and are currently conducting a thorough investigation of these reports," the statement said. "The reported incidents did not occur during school hours or on school property."
Students have reported being approached in the neighborhoods of M.A. Lynch Elementary, Obsidian Middle School, Redmond Proficiency Academy and Vern Patrick Elementary.
The school district and police statement said they "strongly encourage parents to be aware of this situation and to take the following precautions if necessary:
- If you see a vehicle stopping to speak with children, or if your children report this to you, call dispatch immediately at 541-693-6911.
- Please attempt to obtain an accurate vehicle description and license plate number. Photos of the vehicle and driver are also very helpful.
- Parents can use the Text-a-Tip Program to report this type of activity directly to the Police Department. The Text-a-Tip number is 541-316-5585.
"Although we do not have specific information that our students are in any danger, we want to take every precaution possible to keep your children safe," the statement said.
They also offered a page of ideas and reminders to help ensure the safety of children when dealing with strangers.
"The Redmond School District and Redmond Police Department are committed to the safety of our students and to our community," the statement said. "If you have further questions, please contact the Redmond Police Department at 541-504-3400.
Thank you for your support and partnership in keeping our community safe."
Stranger Awareness Reminders & Tips
Keeping your kids safe when they're out of your sight is a major concern for every parent. But teaching your child specific street-savvy skills may be the best way to protect them from predators.
Below are some tips for discussing personal safety with your child:
- Ask your child to be alert and report to their teacher, principal or trusted adult any suspicious cars or strangers loitering near the school.
- If your child walks to and from school and/or after-school activities, ensure they walk with a friend – especially after dark.
- Determine the safest path to and from school for your child and walk or bike with them several times until they feel comfortable with the route.