Last night when I received the update on my phone that the body of the 10-year-old girl abducted in Springfield, MO yesterday, Haley Owens, had been found, I choked up, teared up and felt a tightening in my chest. I am not sure why it emotionally impacted me so much, but it did. I thought about it a lot last night and probably talked about it with Josh a little too much in front of the kids. Gus and Hazel were clearly distraught, and, honestly, they really have little to no comprehension of the true severity of the situation.
I found Gus watching videos of the news segments and press conferences on the iPad. Hazel kept asking if they caught the stranger, was obsessed with what he looked like, and refused to go downstairs to the kitchen to get a glass of water alone. I tried to appease their feelings and emotions by discussing what to do if someone comes up to you and tries to get you to get into a car; what to do and say if a stranger approaches you. I thought we had made some progress.
Then Gus stated the obvious: "But mommy, he wasn't a stranger, he worked at her school." Big breath.
I really had no way to respond. I had of course been thinking about that already when news of the suspect came out, but was trying to avoid that particular factor in this abduction. He was right. That makes the situation hit an entirely new level of confusion for a kid. And a parent.
Now it has been reported that even though he worked in her district, the abductor didn't really know Haley, but he might have known enough about her situation, from his working at the school, to lure her in even closer. Maybe he guessed her teachers name, maybe he talked about something they both would have known about, possibly building her trust.
How do you try to prevent this from happening to your own children? We talked about safe words that a stranger would know if he or she were legit. We discussed possible scenarios and what to do in each one. We described what a safe stranger would look like if you had to ask a someone for help (which by the way is a really difficult concept for a kid to grasp- running from one stranger just to ask another stranger for assistance). All of these things were probably too much for a 3 and 5 year-old to comprehend, but I felt a little better at least.
I was eventually able to redirect our conversation, somehow moving into what Heaven will be like and that everyone will be together eventually when we all get up there. Finally talking about the things that make us the most happy, you know, like birthdays, presents, candy and getting to stay up late. Eventually the kids went to bed and so did I.
Today more details came out about the abduction. Also, updates on other children in similar situations saturated the news. Infants to teens who had been abducted, kidnapped, raped, murdered, some even found safe. But, ultimately, today was a sad day in the news for all parents. Again, little Haley was on my mind a lot today.
I watched Hazel nap this afternoon and couldn't stop thinking about what I would do if I no longer had her with us. I am not sure how a parent overcomes that. I am nearly in tears thinking about the remote possibility. Can you image the pain of it actually happening? I really don't think I can.
After school Gus asked if he could walk from the mailbox to our house with some of his friends (literally 100 feet or less). I would see him the entire way and I could see friendly neighbors outside in their driveways- there literally would be no risk of a stranger nabbing him. But when he asked, that familiar feeling from last night revisited. I choked up, teared up and felt a tightening in my chest.
Of course I let him, but I was- am- scared. He seemed to have completely forgotten our conversations from last night. He was his normal carefree, no hesitation, get-outside-and-play-in-the-yard kid. Would he remember everything we discussed? Does he know to constantly be observant of his surroundings?
How can I be brave and let go the way I need to when there are such crazy, horrible, disgusting people out in this world.
This parenting gig sure is more difficult than I ever imagined it would be.