Although the unnamed girl walked away from the incident unmolested and the man in question was quickly apprehended, the incident has brought to light the dangers facing children in even the quaintest of towns and most average of stores.
“We want to believe it is the perfect little nesting place in America, and it’s not,” said Capt. Mike Davis with the Waynesville Police Department.
The recent incident left Roslyn Petty of Canton questioning whether there was anything more she could do to keep her grandchildren and great-grandchildren safe. Petty, who clutched her two-year-old great-grandson to her chest as she left Walmart Friday, said simply keeping an eye on the kids helps keep them safe.
“I just never let him out of my sight,” Petty said. “There is tragedy around every corner.”
Petty lived in Florida in the 1980s and remembers the child abduction of a six-year-old boy from a Sears department store in Hollywood, Fla. He was later found dead and decapitated. The young boy’s death gained national attention and in part, led to the creation of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
For Misty Pooler of Waynesville, the episode hit close to home because of the girl’s age — just one year younger than her own daughter.
“My little girl won’t be walking around by herself,” Pooler said assuredly.
Pooler added that she has talked to her daughter about being safe and what to do if a stranger approaches.
Because such events can take place anywhere, Kids Advocacy Resource Effort (KARE) has worked with schools in Haywood County to educate children, kindergarten through fifth grade, on various dangers.
KARE, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing child abuse and advocating for children who have been physically or sexually abused, gives different presentations each year depending on what class the children are in. Its programs cover good touch versus bad touch and good secrets versus bad ones.
“The three main rules are: to say no, to run away and to find a trusted adult,” said Julie Schroer, director of KARE.
In addition to programming for schools, KARE also offers programs for adults to help them recognize and report potential abuse.
“If you see something that doesn’t look right or feel right, then it may not be right,” Schroer said.
Although Haywood County schoolchildren learn about stranger danger and other safety tips from KARE, it is still crucial for parents to talk about safety and make contingency plans with their children.
If a predator should target a child, one of the best things to do is scream, Davis said.
“Screaming is a great tool,” Davis said. “Children can really scream loud.”
He also suggested that older children use their cell phones. In the instance of the young girl at Walmart, the man posed as a security guard and accused her of stealing before asking her to undress. Since children are taught to respect authority figures, predators use that to their advantage.
So, if children are apprehended by an unknown adult who accuses them of wrongdoing, they should pull out their cell and tell the person that they must call their parents to meet them.
“Just about every fifth grader has a cell phone,” Schroer said.
If the adult is actually a security guard as they say, then there will be no problem. However, if the person is a child predator, a quick call to the child’s parents will likely scare them off.
Davis also warned parents to be vigilant and keep their children close, particularly during the holiday season when a lot more people are out shopping.
“Predators love to take advantage of that, too,” Davis said. “They are looking for an opening and opportunities to exercise their perversion.”
While being aware of potential predators is important, parents should not panic right away if their child is missing. Parents should perform a quick sweep of the area to see if the child has simply wandered off, which is the most likely case, Davis said. If they still cannot find their child, then talk to customer service representatives who can call for him or her over the store’s intercom system.
Children should also be taught to go to the front of the store and ask an employee for help if they get separated from their parents, Davis added.
Suspect in Walmart child stalking case out on bail
Parents in Western North Carolina breathed a collective sigh of relief last week when police caught and arrested the man suspected of stalking and assaulting an 11-year-old girl inside the Walmart Supercenter in Waynesville.
Ryan Scot Davis, 48, of Candler, promptly made his $100,000 bail, however, and is now out of jail while awaiting trail. Davis is a convicted child sex offender who previously served prison time for a similar incident.
Waynesville police alleged that Davis is the same man who stalked an 11-year-old girl around the Waynesville Walmart on the Saturday afternoon after Thanksgiving.
Posing as a security guard, Davis allegedly told her she was suspected of shoplifting. He led her to a stack of boxes, which he had arranged ahead of time to create a cordoned off area obscured from the view of other shoppers. He accused her of stealing and told her to remove her clothes. When the child refused, the perpetrator released her.
Police were able to piece together what happened using video surveillance tapes from Walmart and later released a picture of the suspect to the public, asking people to come forward and help identify the man. Media plastered his picture across Western North Carolina.
The Waynesville Police Department received several tips from callers, naming Davis as a suspect, and upon investigation, police found enough probable cause to believe that Davis was indeed the man they were looking for.
Davis is already listed on the Sex Offender Registry. He previously spent six years in prison for taking indecent liberties with a child in Henderson County in 2000.
Hollingsed stated that the circumstances of the 2000 incident are very similar to those that took place at Walmart in Waynesville on Saturday.
The full list of charges is: second-degree kidnapping, indecent liberties with a child and assault on a child under 12. All three are felonies.