Residents in Westminster, Colo., are on edge, ABC News reports, after the discovery of 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway's dismembered body last week. Jessica disappeared on her way to school Oct. 5.
Local Parents Gripped by Fear
What happened to Jessica, coupled with previous reports of a man attempting to lure two school children into his car with candy in separate incidents, has Westminster residents concerned a predator is on the loose in their community. With that concern comes a heightened reaction to any perceived security risk.
An 18-year-old boy tried to speak to a 13-year-old boy from his car, setting off a panic Saturday, ABC News explained.
One father told CBS 4 in Denver Sunday parents were making sure kids were never anywhere by themselves. A mother said parents weren't comfortable letting kids ride their bikes or walk to school in groups unaccompanied by adults anymore.
While Denver-area parents have reason for caution with Jessica's murderer yet to be caught, the little girl's death appears to have had some ripple effects elsewhere in the nation.
Ripple Effects from Jessica's Murder
One mom writing for Chicago Now noted that her own 11-year-old will henceforth be driven to school. The Atlanta Blackstar republished advice offered by a Denver psychologist for Georgia parents feeling the need to talk about stranger danger with their kids in the aftermath of Jessica's death. On CafeMom, one mom who said she values letting her children experience independence indicated she'll now shadow them as they walk places in light of what happened to Jessica and other kidnap/murder victims.
Novelty Plus Dread Equals Overreaction
Bruce Schneier summed up what happens when a horror envelops a community in a 2007 commentary for Wired. Explaining why people took extreme actions deemed necessary as protection in the Virginia Tech massacre aftermath, Schneier noted, "Novelty plus dread equals overreaction."
Instead of looking at the reality of how small the risk is, people get caught up in the terrifying details.
What are the risks of a given child being kidnapped by a stranger? There are fewer than 100 stranger kidnappings a year in the United States, child safety advocate Gary Martin Hays told HLN. Hays says a child is more likely to have a heart attack or be shot than kidnapped by a stranger.
John Stossel noted in an essay on kidnapping hysteria the number of child kidnappings has been remarkably consistent over time. Kids are as safe today roaming their communities as their parents were during their childhoods.
"Stranger Danger" Misses Its Mark
According to Hays, parents shouldn't teach children strangers are dangerous. Instead he says give them tools to distinguish good strangers from bad.
What about that feared sexual offender? Ninety-percent were not strangers to their victims, according to the Justice Dept.
As for serial killings, the most dreaded of all, they're on the wane, according to a database kept by Northeastern University criminology professor James Alan Fox, Slate reported.
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