The other night I discovered a television news crew in my neighborhood, its lights glowing and its reporter floating through the darkness like a foreboding specter. I have been in the business long enough to know that news crews, like yellow police tape, do not signal that something good has happened.
In this case, the crew was doing a live report from the scene of another near child abduction. The word "near" is important. It means the attempt failed. No one was hurt. At least, no one was hurt physically. But while that is certainly good news, the community hardly is comforted. It is no solace to know the plague has missed your house, so long as it is still out there, circulating like an invisible germ and readying to strike at any moment. I felt like selling my house and moving far away.A few days later, it nearly struck a few blocks north of my neighborhood. David Ingleby was getting ready for his early morning shower when he noticed a strange car parked across the street. What he couldn't see was that its owner had slithered into Ingleby's driveway and was hiding behind a van, waiting to pounce on the woman next door when she came out for her regular morning walk.
Moments later, her screams roused Ingleby's dog, and the resulting commotion scared the attacker, who ran the 250 or so feet through the darkness back to his car and drove away. It was another near tragedy. Nobody was hurt, but the people involved never will be the same.
"This is a close-knit neighborhood," Ingleby said. "You never think something like that would happen out here."
He didn't say it, but the question hung in the air. Should he move?
Not long ago, a Logan police officer pretended to be a 13-year-old boy who had signed onto America Online. Less than an hour later a new electronic "friend" started a conversation that eventually ended in an arrest and a confession to charges of sexual exploitation of a minor. It was as easy as picking garbage from a gutter. Should parents sell their computers or cancel their telephone lines?
Statistics tell us a child is more likely to be molested by a family member or a friend than by a stranger. Nationwide, incidences of rape have dropped about 30 percent over the past 20 years. But statistics aren't lurking behind vans in the dark or trying to lure children into their cars. Vicious, violent criminals are, and people along the Wasatch Front have a right to be scared.
The arsenal of weapons against this menace is sparse. The most effective of them are light and vigilance. Attackers don't like motion-sensitive lights, loud noises or nosey neighbors who keep spying through the blinds. They don't like people who fight back and draw attention. But they still can be as elusive as vapor.
Two weeks ago, Roger Mast turned himself in to police in Sandy, confessing he had kidnapped and brutally assaulted a 9-year-old girl as she walked to school last fall. He also confessed to the near abduction of a 7-year-old girl in January. The good news is Mast felt guilty enough to turn himself in. The bad news is police said they were glad for the confession because otherwise they may never have solved the crimes. The worse news is that Mast's confession hasn't stopped the spate of attempted abductions nor the attempted rapes of adult women.
These problems aren't new. If they were, children wouldn't grow up hearing fairy tales of boys and girls being chased by wolves, eaten by mean old witches or pursued by giants who hide in the leafy heights of a bean stalk. Today our children must be ready to run from ravenous wolves who can change their appearance and demeanor at will, who can turn from friendly cyber-chatters to wicked witches in an instant and who chase our children with a desire to grind their bones for their own gratification. And adults must be equally poised.
"Little Red Riding Hood," "Hansel and Gretel" and "Jack in the Bean Stalk," all have happy endings. The children run away. They chop down the giant stalks. But in real life this isn't always true. And even if they run away, they never will approach life the same way.
But does it help to look for a house that is farther from the city and barricade the door against the advancing construction?
Ingleby, who wishes he had been quick enough to note a license plate number when his neighbor was attacked, said the saddest thing is his neighbor no longer feels safe enough to take early morning walks.
"I've been jogging for the past six years. I know what jogging means to me. I would hate to lose that or have someone take it away from me," he said. "I would hate to think everyone would have to stop doing the things they enjoy doing."
They shouldn't. When this type of plague is in the air, hiding only makes it spread. Turning our backs and fleeing to some distant rural setting only makes it spread. The answer does not lie in surrender. It lies in vigilance and education.