It's every parent's fear — and one which, unfortunately, came true last week for two Centreville schoolgirls. Fairfax County police say that, in two separate incidents, strangers tried to lure the girls into cars while they walked to and from school.
But thanks to the girls' cool heads and quick thinking, they were able to escape unharmed. The girls, ages 12 and 14, both attend Stone Middle School.
The first incident occurred Wednesday, Jan. 22, around 8:15 a.m., in Sully Station. Police say a girl, 12, was riding her bicycle to school, near Poplar Tree Road and Sully Park Drive, when a man in a red car approached her.
When he asked if she wanted a ride to school, she said, "No," and continued bicycling to school. He then yelled at her to get into his car, but she just crossed the road and continued to school on the opposite side of the street from him.
When she arrived, she told the administrators what happened. She described the man as Hispanic, 25-30, with dark hair and a red bandana around his head. As soon as the administrators heard about the incident, said Stone Middle Principal Ken Gaudreault, the school increased its police presence, that day and the next. He also explained why the girl was outside, alone.
"School starts at 7:55 a.m.," he said. "The child was late to school, so she arrived after school [began]. Otherwise, we would have had a police crossing guard there. We normally have hundreds of students in that area [right before school]."
In a letter sent home Friday to all Stone parents, Gaudreault cautioned children to walk in pairs and to arrive at school in a timely manner. In addition, the school system's public relations department sent letters to Stone's feeder schools in the neighborhood, advising them of the incident, too.
"If something like this happens, children are instructed not to respond [to strangers], but to ignore them and report it immediately to an adult at school," said Gaudreault. "It's scary, but the girl did the right thing."
The second incident, in neighboring Country Club Manor, occurred Thursday, Jan. 23, around 3:15 p.m. Police say a girl, 14, was walking home from school on Braddock Road near Kimana Drive when two men in a small car approached her.
The car slowed and one of the men asked if she wanted a ride home. She continued walking, turning onto Kimana — but they followed, yelling crude remarks at her. She then called home on her cell phone. When the men saw what she was doing, they quickly left.
The girl continued on her way until a family member picked her up. The suspects are described as Hispanic — one, 25-30, and the other, 18-20. Their car is described as an older-model, black Honda Civic two-door with dark-tinted windows.
Anyone with information about either incident, any of the suspects or their vehicles is asked to call police at 703-691-2131 or Fairfax County Crime Solvers at 703-691-8888. Police spokeswoman Jacqui Smith advises children to always "walk with a friend or parent, stay away from strangers and don't approach anyone in a car that you don't know. Don't accept a ride from anyone, unless it's been pre-arranged with your parents. And if someone you don't know approaches you, run away and try to get help."
At nearby Cub Run Elementary, Principal Craig Metcalfe also sent letters to parents, telling them what happened and urging them to "continue to talk with your children about safety and be alerted to suspicious behavior and strangers in the neighborhood."