Startling video of attempted kidnapping in Fla. presents learning opportunity for parents, children

Updated: May. 19, 2021 at 9:44 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Startling video from Florida has many parents talking. The video shows a man run out of a vehicle and attempt to kidnap an 11-year-old girl who manages to fight him off and run away. From the incident, there’s a learning opportunity. Eyewitness News looked into how parents can best talk with their children about what happened and what advice to give.

Eyewitness News Personal Protection Expert Joe Schillaci said what happened in Florida is “horrifying, but it is a reality.”

“I’m saying to myself, I’m going to go home and going to show my seven-year-old,” Schillaci said. “My wife is going to be like, this might be too much but I am telling you it’s not. It’s better to give your kids the tools to be successful.”

The girl who fought off the attacker was waiting at a bus stop when he stopped his vehicle, got out, ran to her and grabbed her.

“This little girl did everything right,” Schillaci said of her fight to get away. “She did exactly what I teach. Be observant. You see somebody come out of a car or van, coming at you, you run and scream as loud as you can.”

Schillaci said this is a conversation that parents need to have with their children.

“You don’t need to give your children nightmares, just sit down. Tell them, look, you’re there to support them, ‘but always be aware of your surroundings, especially when you’re by yourself,’” he said.

Schillaci added it’s important to make sure kids are prepared even if they never have to use the skills.

“In all likelihood, it won’t [happen] but I would be a fool to not tell a parent that ‘look, just because you think it might not happen to your child, you should still prepare him or her,’” Schillaci said. “We don’t plan to fail; we fail to plan, so give your child the tools to succeed in life.”

Teaching children how to perceive danger and know how to respond is the mission for Fearless and Female founder Cindy Coughenour.

“When we have that conversation, afterward, you need to give the child the tools to cope with the situation if it ever comes up,” she said.

Coughenour said to teach children to follow their instincts and if they are saying to run away, do it.

“It is their intuition, and it’s that funny feeling in their stomach or that voice in their head that something doesn’t feel right,” she said.

Part of Coughenour’s class includes role-playing potential situations, and this allows for talking through how different ways to respond.

“Yell, get loud, cause a scene,” she said. “This person doesn’t want any attention. We want everybody looking our directions.”

Coughenour said, “A car is a good situation. If a child is walking home and a car pulls up and wants to try talking to them, I tell those children ‘run in the opposite direction that the car is going.’ So if a car is coming this way, I’m going to run that way [the other way back down the street] because then the car is going to have to turn around back up. Now I have a huge head start.”

She tells kids to keep yelling until they’re someplace safe, and words like “danger” and “no” come out stronger than phrases like “help me.” Schillaci said he recommends a work like “fire” because if yelled, it would quickly draw attention.

Coughenour emphasizes teaching children how to set boundaries between people they don’t know.

“If it is safe, they are going to take two big steps back; you’re going to put your hands up,” said Coughenour. “And I’m going to say ‘hey Amy’ and what are you going to do? You’re going to take two big steps back. Now she’s not being disrespectful; she’s not being rude. She’s actually just told me through her body language I don’t know you.”

She also covers knowing how to fight off an attack.

“Going Chiwawa crazy, I’m going to pick her up, she is going to swing her arms, wiggle, squirm her body and kick her legs and yell,” Coughenour said.

She also shows kids if they are knocked down to the grown, to raise their arms and hands over their face and start kicking. If they have someone in their hands, to use that as an object to throw at an attacker to buy more time to get away.

Coughenour said it’s also important to make sure children know to tell an adult when they feel unsafe or if an adult came up to them asking for them to keep secrets.

Schillaci said, “There are monsters that are out there, and you just saw one pounce on an innocent little girl, and had he got that little girl into that van, God only knows what would have happened.”

Coughenour said parents can always go back and explain to a stranger why their kids responded how they did.

“She thought you were a stranger; she didn’t know you were my boss,” said Coughenour. “That’s why she yelled.”

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