Parents beware

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Although, statistically there have not been substantially more kidnappings this year as opposed to last, national headlines this summer have preyed on parents’ worst fears &045; having their child abducted.

It seems each new week there is a new, more gruesome tale of an abduction of an innocent child.

In May, Alexis S. Patterson, a 7-year-old Milwaukee, Wis., girl, was abducted as she made her way to school.

In June, national attention was drawn to the case of Elizabeth Smart, a 14-year-old Salt Lake City, Utah, girl taken from her bedroom in the middle of the night as her sister watched.

Sadly those two cases seem nowhere near being solved.

One case that appears headed toward closure is that of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion, whose body was found on July 18 in California. The find was just 24 hours after she was abducted in broad daylight in front of a playmate by a man asking for her help to find a lost puppy.

Police arrested Alejandro Avila for murder, two counts of forcible lewd acts upon a child and kidnapping.

Avila, a 27-year-old Orange County, Calif., man, was found not guilty only a couple years earlier of molesting another child after a defense attorney was able to convince a jury of enough reasonable doubt.

All of us see children playing in front yards or at playgrounds or riding their bikes on a daily basis. These crimes could just as easily be front page news in Shelby County.

That is a fact not going unnoticed by local officials. Recently I spoke with Helen Rardin, director of Owens House, Shelby County’s Child Advocacy Center.

Besides her job of educating children about abuse, especially of a sexual nature, she and her staff have made a point to see that parents are informed as well.

Rardin has made a habit recently, when she speaks to groups, to bring a set of flyers with her. She printed the flyers from the Internet. The flyers contain pictures and information about Shelby County’s more than 50 known sexual offenders who must register with local police departments.

&uot;Parents need to be aware that these people are out there. They might live next door to you,&uot; Rardin said.

The website Rardin obtained the flyers from is and is sponsored by the Alabama Bureau of Investigation. Anyone, she noted, can go to the site and see local sex offenders listed by county, city or zip code.

&uot;You can see what a sexual offender looks like,’&uot; she said. &uot;A sex offender can look like anyone off of the street.&uot;

She noted that many of the offenders listed were convicted in Shelby County.

Seeing these people gives me faith in the justice system,&uot; she said. Rardin urges parents to visit the website.

&uot;(The Owens House) hopes to put ourselves out of business. We would love to educate the public to the point that people are afraid to commit these crimes,&uot; she said