For those of you who don’t know me. I am Anthony Coe, Vice-president and senior investigator for the Missing Children Investigation Agency (MCIA), Inc. 501(c) 3. For some time now our president has been trying to get me to write an article. Recently CBS aired an interview on 48 Hours, “Taken: The Amber Dubois Story”, with convicted kidnapper and murderer John Gardner. Gardner spoke in detail about how he lured 14 years old Amber Dubois and 17 years old Chelsea King into his car. I searched our site and the sites of several other missing children organizations and although I found several articles about how to teach your smaller children about “Stranger Danger”, I found nothing that addressed how to keep your teenagers safe from “stranger Abduction”.
I’ve been a missing child investigator for over 19 years and I have learned that teenagers are just as much at risk of abduction as a toddler, if not more. We teach our teens to respect adults, which includes strangers. Yes we want our teens to be polite and respectful everyone they meet. BUT … we are placing our teens at risk by not teaching them when it is alright to be disrespectful. If you believe your boys are safer than your girls, you are mistaken. Your teenage sons are at just as great of risk as your teenage daughters.
The average weight of a 14 year old boy is around 125 pounds. Even at 165 pounds your teenage son is no match for a 240 pound 35 year old man determined to use force against your son. According to the 48 hours interview, John Gardner stated that he got Amber Dubois to get into his vehicle by telling her he had a gun. When she asked if he was joking he raised his voice and she got into his vehicle.
According to Gardner he never showed amber a gun. Most people would say he didn’t use force. Actually he did use force against her. As a Military Police Officer in the United States Marine Corps I was trained in the use of verbal force to control suspects. In fact for Military Police Officers in the Marine Corps verbal force is the second level of force. The first level is when the Military Police Officer shows up. Gardner was in control before Amber even saw him.
Before you think I’m in some way blaming Amber, understand that adults can fall victim to this type of force as well. As a Military Police officer I dealt with fully trained servicemen and women and used the same type of force very effectively. If a man stood in the middle of a mall with a bomb strapped to him, he could get people to come to him by threatening to set off the bomb.
Why would someone go to a person with a bomb strapped to them? No one wants to be responsible for a bomb going off and killing someone else. We are conditioned from childhood to obey and be good citizens. Usually in life that is a good thing.
We teach our young children to run away from strangers, but we don’t teach our teenagers it’s alright to turn and run. The one victim who escaped Gardner punched him in the nose and ran away. Once your child is under the control of a predator, it is too late. Your child’s greatest chance for survival is to run away at the first sign of danger.
Here are some basic things we should teach our teens:
1. Never walk alone. Walk in groups. If your child must walk home alone, don’t leave school late. There is safety in numbers. If your teen child must stay after school arrange to pick them up.
2. Trust your first impression of a stranger. Our first impressions are usually the correct ones.
3. When at any time you feel trapped get away from that situation.
4. If confronted by a stranger, turn, run and SCREAM for help. You want to attract as much attention to you as possible. Don’t worry about looking strange or weak.
5. It is alright to be rude to a stranger who you feel is a threat to you. You can always go back and apologize if you make a mistake. This goes back to trusting your first impressions. Sexual predators come from all walks of life. We always hear that they looked so normal. The BTK (Bind Torture and Kill) murderer was a family man and had strong ties to his community and church.
6. Teach your child self-defense. Boxing and martial arts skills can help save your child’s life. You don’t need them to defeat their attacker. They only need a few seconds which will allow them to get away.
7. Finally your teenage child is not an adult. They are not equipped to confront a violent adult attacker. Most adults are not equipped to confront a violent criminal. Can you honestly say that if confronted by a member of a drug cartel you will be able to standup to them? I think not.
Think about it this way. A sexual predator has played over in his mind who, when and how they will strike next. They are as skilled at what they do as a member of the military’s Special Forces. Most likely they have done this before and have stalked your child long before the actual abduction.
If you remember earlier I stated that Gardner was in control long before Amber first saw him. He had a plan. He had done this before. He knew when and where to strike. He knew she would be in the ally he abducted her from. I say this because most likely he watched her for several days before he abducted her. Predators like Gardner don’t like to leave things to chance. They plan them out.
You teenage child needs a plan. If they don’t have a plan they will become a victim. When confronted by a stranger, if they know where to run, such as home, back to school or towards a crowd they are ahead of the game. When a person doesn’t have a plan they hesitate. Once you hesitate you open the door for the bad guy to take control.
I found the Gardner interview on YouTube.com (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttFqgCYnzKI). Gardner’s interview is on part 3 of the video clips. At his sentencing he is crying. But pay attention to when the woman who got away from him speaks. He becomes visibly angry with her. She messed up his plan. She fought back by punching him in the nose and running away from him. She didn’t stand and fight with him. She ran. You can see the rage in his eyes and hear the hatred in his voice as he speaks to his lawyer about her statement.
We only know about three cases involving Gardner. It would not surprise me if we were to discover later that he had many other victims. In fact I would be surprised if that is not the case. Gardner is very skilled at what he does. Our teen children need to be just as skilled at getting away from such a predator.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear, I am not blaming Amber or Chelsea or their parents for what happened. In all of my years of experience as a missing child investigator, I have never found a case such as this one where the parent or the child was at fault. I’m not saying that if you follow these steps that your child will be safe. I’m also not saying that what I have spoken about is the only steps your child should take. If your child has a plan for escape, they will increase their chance of survival and escape.
Let me leave you parents with this. I often feel my teenage daughter doesn’t even know I’m talking to her, until I hear my words echoed from her mouth. Your teens are listening even when they act as if they aren’t. So speak with them and teach them. They hear you. Your words and advice may someday save their life.