As a parent, the only things you wish for your child is for them to be safe, healthy, and happy. There are plenty of things you can teach them about being safe: to not climb too high up a tree; to wear a helmet when they ride their bikes. To look both ways before crossing a street.
And to never get into a stranger's vehicle.
That last point is something you teach your child, but always hope that you never have to see put into practice. And if it must be put into practice, you hope for a safe outcome.
On Tuesday, one of my kids was put to the test.
As she walked from where her school bus lets her off to our house, she noticed a rusted, white pickup truck parked on the side of the road, less than 100 metres from our driveway. She didn't notice the make, but when she pointed out a similar truck in a neighbour's driveway, she remarked that it didn't have "that little door behind the driver's door." It wasn't an extended cab.
The engine was turned off. A lone man was sitting behind the wheel: he was older—as she put it, "older than grandpa G"—wore his white hair long, and covered on top with a blue bandana. He wore a black tank top, and she could see a tattoo on his left arm. From what she could tell, he worked out: his arms were big.
His truck was facing her, and she had to step out onto the street to get around it because she didn't want to have to climb the snowbank. Walking alongside the truck, she was passing it on the driver's side.
As she came alongside the vehicle, the man rolled down his window, hung his arm out, and told her he had candy. His voice was deep and raspy, she later described. A smoker's voice. Did she want to come into his truck and have some?
My daughter isn't stupid. Her response was clear: "no."
Not easily deterred, he added, it's cold out: you should come in and warm up.
My daughter isn't stupid. Her response wasn't verbal. She high-tailed it home.
As parents, we did what we could: we called the police and filed a report. We notified our neighbours of what happened. We contacted the schools. Being on social media, I sent out tweets, warning people of a child predator. (So many of you did exactly what I had hoped for: you spread the word.)
I contacted people I know in the media (through social media): the CBC, 1310News, Majic100. Two reporters talked to me on the phone. Later, CTV News tweeted me, wanting to talk, but never got through to me. I later learned that the local CTV station aired a story.
Word got out.
I have the most awesome neighbours. They banded together. At the end of yesterday's school day, there were parents on the street, watching and waiting. Many of us have known each other since our kids were born. In a way, we're an extended family: the kids know they can go to any house and be safe.
For my part, I worked from home yesterday. About 30 minutes before my daughter's bus was scheduled to arrive, I picked up my camera (strapped the 70-300mm lens on it) and walked around the surrounding blocks, truly hoping I would spot this bastard. I wanted to capture some images of him to help the police with their investigation.
And then I wanted to crack my camera over his skull (I could use an upgraded body).
Sadly, he was nowhere to be found. Whether he moved on to another neighbourhood or was scared off by the crowd that gathered at the end of my street, we won't know. But I do know this: my neighbours are watching. We are united in keeping all of our kids safe.
To the dude in the truck, I say this: seek help. Never come back to my end of town. Because if you mess with my kid, you mess with my neighbourhood.
And we will mess with you.