The next time you wonder why some parents are so vigilant, so watchful of their kids, think of Athena Strand, and think of how fast 30 minutes passes.
It took just that long for the 7-year-old to leave her home and be gone forever. Any other time on any other day, she probably wouldn’t have encountered the FedEx contract delivery driver accused of her murder.
But according to the timeline laid out by authorities, just 30 minutes passed between the time Athena left her home in Paradise in frustration over an argument and when her stepmother discovered her missing. In those 30 minutes, police say, the driver likely abducted her. Sheriff’s officials say he confessed to her murder.
Each of my kids is older than Athena, and I could see any of them walking outside for a bit of fresh air after an argument. Kids should be safe to be in or near their homes without fear of abduction or other harm. A parent should be able to let their kids go outside for a walk near their home without worrying they may not return home. For the most part, kids used to be able to roam more freely in modern America. But this does not appear to be the case anymore.
There are people in the world who are more grotesque, evil, and abominable than one one might think is possible. The fact that Athena was abducted by a delivery driver is another aspect of this case that makes it so heinous: Delivery drivers are ubiquitous, yet ordinary.
Whether UPS, Amazon Prime, DoorDash, or Grubhub, we’re used to ordering food and goods to our doorstep, and most of us don’t think twice about the stranger walking up to our front stoop and dropping something off inches from our personal space inside. That we might now need to think twice or take precautions about something we’ve all participated in so casually breeds anxiety.
Unfortunately, it’s clear, the world is not the place it once was: Child abductions by strangers are statistically rare — they make up less than 1% of abductions — but that’s also why, when they happen, they scare the living daylights out of people.
Parents can’t have eyes on children 24/7, especially when they’re very young. In the time an adult uses the bathroom, a toddler can climb into someone’s car or run into the street.
When I was a child in Minnesota, 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling was abducted while biking home from a convenience store accompanied by friends. He lived in St. Joseph in a rural area; the crime made national headlines. It was not solved until 2016, when Jacob’s murderer confessed.
During decades of uncertainty, his mother, Patty, became a central public figure, running for office and campaigning for her son to be found.
Some good came of the tragedy. In 1994, Congress passed the Wetterling Act, which required criminals who targeted minors and who were convicted of sexual crimes to register with police for a decade following release from prison. In 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which created a national sex offender registry.
But just because abductions are rare doesn’t mean we can’t mourn over them and learn whatever we can. Perhaps Athena’s case will prompt more parents to install outdoor cameras or impose strict rules on their kids about leaving the house. It’s wise to discuss with your children that many people are good and helpful, but they can also be bad and kids should be cautious in dealing with them.
Kids need a healthy vigilance without being perpetually anxious. This can be hard to communicate in today’s age when a stream of 24/7 bad news is available on your smartphone in your pocket. It’s tempting, as a parent, to veer toward either a free-range approach to parenting or clamping down entirely and never letting your child out of your sight. Cases like this exacerbate these competing feelings.
This is not to say it’s the family’s fault. It is not. She came across a predator, and until we can rid the world of such evil people, the rest of us must do what we can to protect our youth.
Athena’s grandfather wrote a moving post on Facebook that must have taken every bit of courage he had:
“There’s not one ounce of my flesh that wants to do this or say this, but my spirit has heard God’s voice and right now, while tears flood my eyes, I declare publicly that I forgive this man!” Mark Strand wrote over the weekend. “Hate will not win. I hope my family will understand that I don’t do this for the sake of this man. I do this for the sake of my family and myself and to Honor the voice of God who is giving me the strength to say this. I do this to honor our precious Athena who knew no hate.”
Forgiveness is wise, but we can forgive and not forget: We must be vigilant toward the evil that surrounds us, protect our children and derive whatever good we can from tragedy.