Abductors Use 'Lures' to Trick Children

Child safety expert identified common "lures" used by child molesters.

April 14, 2010, 11:47 AM

April 14, 2010— -- The abduction case of 7-year-old Somer Thompson in Orange Park, Fla., has refocused attention on the threat of violent, sexual predators who prey on children.

Somer had been last seen walking home from school last October with her older sister, Abby, and twin brother Samuel. Her body was found two days later in a Georgia landfill.

After a five month investigation by police, Jarred Harrell was charged March 26 with first-degree murder, sexual battery and lewd or lascivious molestation of a child younger than 12. Harrell, 24, pleaded not guilty to killing Somer.

Police said they believe Harrell encountered Somer as she walked by his house on her way home from school on Gano Avenue, where his mother and stepfather had a house. Police said they have evidence that Harrell then assaulted Somer, killed her and disposed of her body.

Child safety experts said there are concrete things parents can teach their children to make them more aware of the dangers of walking away with a stranger. Ken Wooden, who studied the tactics that predators use to lure children, led a seminar at the First Baptist Church of Orange Park in March, to teach parents in Somer's community how to educate kids to keep them safe.

Wooden said the biggest mistake parents make is to think it's enough to tell children, "Don't talk to strangers."

"In the eyes of a kid, a stranger is some character who's very scary and a monster type," Wooden said. In reality, though, molesters can look like ordinary, friendly, engaging adults, Wooden warned.

As part of a "Primetime" segment, Wooden identified 16 "lures" commonly used by child molesters and abductors and demonstrated the effectiveness of such lures at a Virginia playground.

'Pet Lure' Used by Predators

John Wayne Gacy, who killed more than 30 boys near Chicago in the 1970s, used something Wooden calls the "job lure." Gacy would ask his victims to run errands for him and then come to his house to get paid.

Serial killer Ted Bundy is believed to have lured one of his victims, 12-year-old Kimberly Leach, by using an "emergency lure." He tricked the girl by telling the girl her house was on fire and she should follow him.

Predators often win a child's trust by asking for their assistance, such as asking directions or, in what Wooden said is a common ploy, the "pet lure," where a predator approaches a child and asks if they had seen his dog.

'Primetime' Experiment: Lures Shown to Be Effective

With permission from the children's parents, Wooden played the role of a predator using his "lures" to try to persuade children to leave an Arlington, Va., playground.

Before going to the playground, 7-year-old Patrick Beard told his mother, as she had taught him, that he would "kick and scream and run in the other direction" if a stranger asked him to go somewhere.

But when Wooden approached him in the playground and asked his name, he immediately answered, "Patrick."

Then Wooden continued, using a lure an Oklahoma molester had used to win the trust of a child he assaulted in 1990. Showing Patrick a photograph of a dog, Wooden said: "Here, Patrick, my little puppy. His name is Shorty, and we're looking for him. He answers to the voice of little girls and little boys. And we're offering a reward of $10. Could you help look for him?"

Patrick took the picture, looked around and yelled Shorty's name, then followed Wooden out of the park. Patrick's mother Debbie Beard, who was watching via a video link-up, was horrified.

"This is something I'll have to discuss with him much more thoroughly than I ever thought I would have to do," she said.

The same trick worked with four other children, including 5-year-old Mika Netherton. Afterward, when her mother asked her sternly what she was supposed to do if a stranger approached her, Mika knew the right answer: Run away. But she didn't seem to think it applied to the man with the dog. "He wanted me to find Shorty," she said.

Wooden said children should be drilled on the common lures the way they are taught an academic subject.