String Of Abductions Has Local Parents Cautious

(LOUISVILLE, July 18th, 2002, 9 a.m.) -- Hours after the shocking news that Sarah Runnion was found dead, Louisville parents like Erica McGowan vowed to keep their children safe.

"It keeps me that much closer to my kids with what's going on in the world so I just have to be the one that keeps them safe."

But how do you keep your children safe? We spoke with expert Donnie Morris. "We have to keep more of an eye on our kids," he said. "And also the community."

Six years ago Morris started a program called Prevention 2000. He and his wife, Judge Toni Stringer, speak at schools and churches in Louisville, teaching parents and kids how to avoid a kidnapping.

Back in 1998 Morris worked on an investigative piece with WAVE 3. We wondered if kids would follow him if Morris asked for help in finding his dog. He'd approach children and pose a question: "Do you think you can help me find him -- I think I lost him in that area over here -- do you think you can help me find him?

Many children readily walked away with Morris without a second thought.

Years later, that is exactly how Samantha Runnion's kidnapper lured her close enough for him to snatch her and force her into her car, even as she screamed for her playmate to call her grandmother.

During the investigation, Morris did find many kids who would follow him. And so the Prevention 2000 message then -- and now -- is the same: don't follow a stranger to his car or to an isolated area.

Another suggestion: carry a whistle.

Because a key Prevention 2000 message is that parents can't always be around, and kids need to look out for other kids. And Toni Stringer says kids can get help from other parents they know.

"If someone were to approach a child in a setting like this one (a park) and their parents aren't close by, if they find women with other children nearby who are around, if they can get away from that stranger and run to that woman," Stringer said children have a chance of escaping a would-be abductor.

Another method of escape Prevention 2000 teaches is called the windmill. If someone tries to lead a young person away by holding on to their arm, they're taught to swing their arm around in a windmill-like motion to try to break free.

The bottom line: teach your children not to ever worry about being rude - teach them to worry about being safe no matter what.

Experts say sexual predators often use a ploy like looking for a lot animal gaining children's trust by coming down to their level.

Online Reporter: Dina Kaplan

Online Producer: Michael Dever