Police say the car had been circling the neighborhood for days, looking for a victim.
As ABC News reports, it was about 3:45 p.m. last Wednesday, and a 10-year-old girl was walking home from Pinal County, Arizona park when a stranger in a white SUV pulled up beside her. The man, who covered his face with his hand while talking to the girl, tried to persuade her to get in the car with him.
Brenda James, the girl’s mother, told ABC:
“My daughter called me crying upset and she told me that, ‘Some guy tried to take her.’ He told her his brother had been in a serious accident and she needed to come home with him.”
The girl does have an older brother, though authorities don’t know if that was a lucky guess or if the stranger had been watching her. The girl told ABC:
“I was terrified. I was terrified that my brother was in an actual accident, that he could be hurt.”
As scared as she was, she was also suspicious of the man. So she asked him for the family code word. When he didn’t know what it was, the girl said the man’s face, “just kind of froze,” and he drove away.
James explained that they instituted the code word just a few months ago after she’d read a story that explained to her how valuable they can be. The family code word lets the kids know who can and cannot pick them up. She told NBC News:
“I never thought it would be used, but I’m proud of her for remembering that and knowing to use that. This one time, it saved my daughter’s life.”
On Facebook, Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb praised the James family for setting up a code word and encouraged others to do the same:
Kudos to the parents of this child for having a code word and talking to their children about stranger danger. We hope by putting this out, it will encourage parents to have that conversation and create a plan with their children, so they know what to do if they are in that situation.
Many of those who commented discussed how valuable a code word can be as a family safety measure.
Though frightened, the young girl is okay. Residents living near the park told KPNX News they’re worried about the fact that the man is still out there. Children living near the park told authorities they had seen the SUV circling the area before.
Lamb told KPNX that this incident was a warning and a chance to prepare children for such a situation. Callahan Walsh of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children emphasized that when children escape an abduction, it’s usually due to their own actions. Walsh told ABC:
“Eighty percent of the time children are able to get away from the would-be abductor is because of something they did on their own volition. And that’s kicking and screaming or using the code word.”