Two Chinatown schools have abduction scares

Earlier this month as school was letting out, a Lincoln Elementary mom saw a 4-year-old preschooler walking out of school, hand-in-hand, with a man she didn’t recognize. She went up to him and asked who he was, and the stranger dropped the girl’s hand and left, according to a letter that went home to parents.

Then, just eight days later, an 8-year-old boy from neighboring Lighthouse Community Charter School was playing soccer with his classmates at Madison Square Park, downtown, when a man grabbed his wrist and tried to take him away — in front of a bunch of teachers.

This afternoon I talked to Samara Lewis, a social worker whose 6-year-old son goes to Lincoln. “I know there’s no 100 percent-proof plan,” she said.

Still, Lewis says she’s worried about how easy it is for people to access the campus, and she still wonders how a strange man could have walked off with a little girl. She said the play structure at the Lincoln Square Recreation Center, where the kids sometimes play, is close to the street; it’s a public park, and there’s no fence.

“Someone could just grab a child, because it’s right off the street,” Lewis said.

Lewis also said that the school experienced stranger problems last year: a man in the boys bathroom, another in the hallway who, she said, wielded a knife at a teacher before fleeing the campus.

Parents, teachers and students: How safe are your schools from strangers? What safety precautions have worked, and what measures should be considered to protect the kids and the staff from people who have no business on school grounds?

You can read the Tribune story, complete with composite drawings of the two suspects, here. I’d post the drawings on this blog, but they kind of give me the creeps.

image from Paula Wirth’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Nextset

    I think in the past we didn’t have so many dangerously mentally ill people hanging around town who might want to make a meal of a little kid. These people were in Atascadero or in other State Hospitals – or in State Prison on a xx-to-life term rather than the shorter determinate terms we now use. The bottom line is that we have a lot of dangerous people in our cities. We call them “parolees” and “County Mental Health Clients”. The emphasis is on local (county) management of the “At Risk population”.

    So what are the schools doing about designing the campus to make it more difficult for the school itself to be infiltrated by dangerous drifter types?

    Probably not much till a child is taken. And probably with good reason. Children are FAR more likely to be sexually assaulted and/or killed by Mother’s boyfriends than any other catagory of adult. Spending a ton of money on security can break the schools’ budgets without any significant reduction on raped or killed children. But it may help save a few children.

    And money doesn’t grow on trees, it’s printed in Washington and if they don’t hand it out as a grant you can forget about redesigning local schools anytime soon.

    So in the end the parent is the one that makes the different in the level of risk their child is exposed to. Starting with the location the parent choses to raise the child in. And who the child is entrusted to.

    Brave New World.

  • Katy Murphy

    I asked OUSD spokesman Troy Flint about safety measures taken in light of the abduction attempts. Here’s the response he received from Denise Saddler, the district administrator who supervises Lincoln and other elementary schools:

    “Principal John Melvin has been very judicious in his work to underscore that safety is an absolute priority. The following has been put in place to reinforce the safety procedures at Lincoln.

    o The pick up policy for K-2 has been changed to require that parents pick up students in the classroom

    o These procedures sent home in English and Chinese

    o The Safety plan was reviewed at all Back To School Mtg

    o OUSD’s Chief of Police has reviewed the safety plan and has planned a threat analysis review

    o Lincoln has four noon supervisors who have been hired to stay until the end of the day to support the dismissal process

    o All staff supervising staff and volunteers are required to wear red Lincoln Staff visors so that they are readily recognized as an adult available to assist and support students

    o Established a drop off zone safety team

    o City Police have attended Back To School Mtgs.

    o A community meeting was held to look at community safety- Lincoln parents were invited.

    o Gates are locked during hours when staff is not monitoring them

    o Plan to order additional walkie takies

    Parent leadership has partnered with the school in the current plan and review of safety systems.”

  • abby

    Just want to say kudos to the woman who noticed the strange man. This is just a reminder to us all to SAY SOMETHING when something doesn’t look/feel right.

  • John

    Just want to also say kudos to the woman who noticed the strange man. This is just another reminder to us all to get out of Oakland if at all possible.

    However, if you want to become one of City Councilperson Jean Quan’s “Neighborhood Heroes,” there is a million golden opportunities for you in Oakland.

    Someone send “the woman’s” name to Jean.

  • Nextset

    Katy: I think the measures outlines above are good. But does your research conclude that the principal threat to student physical safety are 1>intruders/strangers on campus 2>violence from other students or 3> attack from known associates/relatives of the student or their family? Is their any school stats kept on this? If we had some numbers on the incidence of assaults on children we could discuss security with a clear view of the problem.

    I do believe it is essential for campuses and especially those with small children to have defenses against strangers & intruders walking onto the property unchallenged. But I suppose that means going to gated or turnstiled campuses where the exits are available but entrances are few and manned.

    I remember Oakland Tech High School circa 1970 having exit only turnstiles somewhere on the property so that you couldn’t enter campus from that side. It’s not a clear memory though.