It’s a parent’s worst nightmare and one that has played out far too many times. A man in an unidentified car pulls up to your child on the street and asks them to get in.
That’s exactly what happened on Monday afternoon to a 10-year-old girl in Ajax, Ontario, about 50 kilometres east of Toronto.
The young girl had just left her public school around 3:30 p.m. when a man allegedly accosted her, saying he had been asked by her mother to pick her up. He then gestured towards a sedan in the school parking lot with a female passenger.
Luckily, at that point, a plan she had worked out with her parents kicked in.
If the girl’s mom and dad ever sent someone to pick her up, they would give the person a code word. She was warned not to go anywhere unless they knew the code word.
“She asked this person what the code word was and obviously they got it wrong,” Det. Dave Mason with Durham Regional Police tells CTV Toronto. “She told them ‘You got the code word wrong’ and that person left.”
As the couple quickly drove off, the girl even managed to memorize a few digits of their license plate. When she returned home, she told her parents, who immediately notified the police.
Now, police are looking for the couple and reminding parents to talk to their children about personal safety.
“I think it’s important to have some sort of safety plan in place and to have that discussion with your kids,” Mason tells CTV Toronto.
Several years ago, 7-year-old Shelby Flanders foiled a similar kidnapping attempt in Salt Lake City, Utah. A man drove up to the girl and told her that her mother was in a car accident, and he had been sent to pick her up. Shelby asked the code word and he didn’t answer.
“If we don’t have a code word when anybody comes up to us, we won’t go with them,” she told Good Morning America at the time. “So I said no and ran.”
At the time, Shelby’s father said the code word had been in place in their family for years.
While officials say having a code word is a good idea, it can sometimes lead to problems.
“Children sometimes forget their code word. They will ask for it, but go with whatever answer the person gives because they forget their code word,” explains the website Child Safety and Abuse Prevention Programs. “The code word is not as foolproof as one might suspect.”
The website suggests that children should just run from anyone they don’t know, and not give them any extra time by asking them for the code word. Instead, they suggest immediately going to a local business or adult in the area, or just screaming for help.
As for the girl from Ajax?
“She’s fine,” Mason tells The Globe and Mail. “It’s all just a good example of safety planning.”
Watch the video below about a baby abducted from a U.S. hospital last year.