Over the last few months, I have read a handful of stories on social media about people acting suspiciously in stores in Iowa and, more specifically Mason City.
One story in particular really grabbed my attention. It was written by a woman who, while shopping at a store in Mason City with her husband and young son, was followed around by two men and a little girl.
The woman and her son separated from her husband to walk to the toy section. That’s when she noticed the men and child. They followed her into every aisle. When the woman and her family checked out, the men grabbed a bag of candy as their sole purchase and checked out, as well.
The behavior seemed odd to the couple so to be cautious, the woman’s family waited inside for five minutes, then the husband went to their vehicle to pick them up at the front door. The two men were still in the parking lot in an SUV and circled around the husband’s vehicle.
The husband picked up the woman and son and they drove away safely. But she was shaken by the experience and took to social media to share the story with others.
Mason City law enforcement learned of the incident and investigated. They shared a post on social media stating they reviewed security camera footage and didn’t think there was a crime in progress. But they reminded the public to be aware of what’s happening around you and if you “see something, say something”.
Reading this story was a good reminder to me to always have an eye on my kids. They are 3 and 5 so I still supervise them very closely. But they mind well and have gotten old enough to where if we are out shopping I can trust them to look at one display while I look at something else nearby. I can see them but turn to look at another display at the same time.
This story reminded me while I may be able to trust my kids to stay in one place, I may not be able to trust the intentions of other people. If a predator happens to be watching us, all they need is for me to turn my back for a few seconds so they can grab my kids and be gone.
I’ve taught my children about stranger danger and not-so-stranger danger, too. After I read the above story, I had another talk with my kids explaining when we’re in a store they can no longer look at something else or play in the clothes racks but instead need to stay with me. As a parent, it’s hard knowing what to say because I don’t want them to be irrationally afraid, but I do want them to know how to be safe.
I grew up in the ‘80s at a time when missing children really started to make national headlines. Johnny Gosch and Eugene Martin, both abducted while delivering the Des Moines Register, and Jacob Wetterling are names and faces seared in my memory. I can recall houses in my hometown that had a special sign on their door with a symbol signifying it was a safe house to run to if a child was in trouble.
I don’t know what requirements had to be met to become a safe house but hopefully there were background checks. I’ve seen too many episodes of “Criminal Mind”s to now know that trouble could have lurked inside the house, too!
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But in all seriousness, it was a very impactful time for my generation and our parents.
Recently, I was at a store shopping with my kids. While I was checking out, I told my 5-year- old daughter she could return the cart. The area was just 10 feet away from me.
As Amaya parked the double stroller cart another cashier came over to assist her. I watched her the entire time. My 3-year-old son was standing at the end of the checkout also quietly watching Amaya. As we left, Max immediately told me, “Amaya was with someone you don’t know when you weren’t with her!”
I told him he was right, the woman was a stranger. But I explained in this instance it was OK for Amaya to let the cashier help her because I was right there watching the entire time.
I was so pleased his young mind remembered what I had taught him.
I know the chances of a child being abducted are very low, even lower are the chances of being abducted by a stranger. But hearing these recent stories have been a good reminder for me to always keep a watchful eye on my children and be mindful of what’s going on around us.
It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security and while I don’t want my kids or me to be fearful, I do want us to be safe.
Summer is a time when kids can play at playgrounds, go to the pool or beach, bike ride, go on a hike, and as they age, have a little more independence.
As they do all this, we know our own children and what they can be trusted to do, but it’s the other people we may need to worry about.
Addie Rugland is a freelance writer who lives in Northwood with her husband, daughter and son.