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Keep Vigilant

With a handful of abduction attempts in the past month, walkers encouraged to be mindful of surroundings.

A string of recent abduction attempts may not be a trend in Fairfax County crime, but people should be conscious of their surroundings when walking in their neighborhoods.

The most recent attempt, on Friday, Oct. 26 in the Pohick area, involved a young boy who was walking with his bicycle in the 7100 block of Point Replete Drive at 6:45 p.m. A man grabbed his arm and told the boy he did not belong there, according to police reports, and told the boy he would take him home. The boy was able to break free and run home to tell his parents.

A few weeks ago, another boy was walking through the Laurel Hill neighborhood in Lorton on his way to South County Secondary School when he was approached by two men in a white van, who followed him for several blocks. The boy ran to two homes before finding someone in a third home who let him in to call for help.

Fairfax County Police Officer Camille Neville said this is not a trend, however. Abduction attempts happen from time to time, she said, but residents should not be worried.

"It is very unusual for a child to be abducted," she said. "We need to look out in all areas."

SOME ABDUCTION cases may be the result of incomplete information, Neville said. It is possible that a child may be in a place he or she should not be, like trespassing on private property. If the property owner comes out and confronts the child, it is possible the child's parents will hear a different story.

"Someone you don't know putting their hand on your arm may fall under the abduction code when reported," Neville said.

Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 16, there have been 135 abduction attempts in Fairfax County, Neville said. In all of 2006, there were 160 cases, not including parental abductions or child custody cases.

Information is sent home with students in Fairfax County schools when the year begins, said Fairfax County Public Schools public information officer Paul Regnier.

"We do a lot about stranger danger, especially with the younger kids," Regnier said. "We send that information out regardless of whether there's an abduction at a school, just to be safe."

Students are introduced to the concept of strangers and what to do if approached by someone they do not know starting in kindergarten, Regnier said. They are told to tell their parent or a police officer if a stranger talks to them or tries to convince the child to go with them somewhere. In second grade, students watch a video with McGruff The Crime Dog that discusses strangers and personal safety.

The best advice for staying safe is a list of common-sense tips, including walking in a group, staying in well-lit places, carrying a flashlight when walking at night, Neville said. "It's always a good idea to let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return," she added.

It is also important that whoever is trying to abduct someone is not allowed to take the victim away from their current location.

For children, the best advice if approached by a stranger is to yell "Help, I don't know this person," and run into a public place or to a mother with children, Neville said.

"Do what you have to do to get away from the person, like kicking, screaming, punching, biting, whatever works," she said.