A neighbor ran to my door the other day and screamed “Marie just got in a red pick-up truck with a man and he sped away.” Bad information for any parent to hear. I immediately called 911, and by the time the police were at my door minutes later, Marie, who is profoundly deaf and very precocious, came strolling down the street to our house. Of course I was overwhelmingly relieved to see her, but also slight embarrassed by the 5 police cars at our doorstep.
“Where WERE you?” I asked.
“I went with man to find dog” she answered in American Sign Language. We all gasped at the “reason” she got into the red truck, a reason notoriously used by men who kidnap children. She said she jumped out of the truck and came home, giving a description of the truck and the man. Then she nonchalantly mentioned that she knew him and where he lived. Walking, she led the police cars two streets over and pointed to a house. Completely disinterested in their investigation, and stubbornly unwilling to discuss it any further because her favorite television show was on, she walked home.
Knowing Marie and her friendliness and impulsivity, I thought she had willingly jumped in his truck, thinking of him as a friend with no harm intended. After all, he simply drove around the block and parked at his house.
He turned out to have a record for drugs, but no history of child abuse or violence. Even if he “let her go”, the police argued, he would still be guilty of “child enticement,” so they dutifully put him in handcuffs and brought him down to the police station. Something about the situation just did not sit right with me, so I sat Marie down and delved further into her story.
According to her, the neighbor’s dog got loose from its leash and she was chasing it trying to catch it but it ran up the street. When the man in the red truck drove by, Marie, recognizing him as a neighbor, frantically flagged down his truck and asked him to stop. Without him making any comments or motions, she jumped into the front seat and pointed at the loose dog. Understanding what she wanted, he sped down the street in pursuit of the animal, which eventually turned around and ran home. He had driven around the block to his home, at which point she jumped out of his truck to come home. She was completely confused as to why the police were there. Using this as an opportunity to reinforce to her the dangers of getting into someone’s car, the lesson did not register with her. She KNEW him, she insisted, and he was just helping her.
Knowing that this man, who only responded to his young neighbor flagging him down and jumping into his car, was being held in handcuffs at the police station, I immediately called the station to give the explanation. It was the same explanation the man was giving the police, but which they somehow did not believe. With my corroboration, they let him go. Gracefully, there were no hard feelings from him as he completely understood why they thought he committed a crime. He did learn a lesson, though, as he reportedly keeps his doors locked now when he passes our house.