A North East Elementary School student did the right thing when he ignored attempts by a stranger to lure him into the man’s car last week.
The 10-year-old got on his bus, trusting his instincts instead.
With the highly publicized abductions that have ended badly elsewhere around the country, the local fifth-grader’s brush with danger brings the possibility uncomfortably close to home.
Detective Mike Cunningham of the Cecil County Sheriff’s Office said these high-profile cases represent a minority of the cases he sees where children become the victim of a sexual predator.
“Stranger danger is only 20 percent of the cases,” Cunningham said.
Detective Sgt. Bernard Chiominto agrees.
“The majority of our suspects who violate a child are known by the family,” he said.
One of the best ways to protect children from predators is to know your enemy, said Cunningham, who is in charge of Cecil’s Sex Offender Registry.
“I have 120 sex offenders registered,” Cunningham said.
Nationally, there are 575,000 registered sex offenders. Cunningham said 100,000 of them are unaccounted for.
“We need the sex offender to stay in one place so we can manage them,” he said.
By using the Maryland registry Web site (www.dpscs.state.md.us/onlineservs/sor/), parents can see if a registered sex offender has moved into the neighborhood. But that’s not the only weapon in the fight to protect a child.
“You still need to know where your children are and who they are with,” Chiominto said.
Cunningham will be at Perryville Town Hall at 7 tonight to make a presentation about the registry. While all counties have until 2009 to get their system in place, Cecil is two years ahead, thanks to a grant that enabled the sheriff’s office to implement the educational aspect. Tonight’s presentation is an example of the educational component that is part of the 2009 requirements.
“Cecil County is the only one in the state ahead of the legislation,” Cunningham said.
Additional education, equipment and training came with the grant package.
By educating the public, Cunningham said fewer offenders will be able to dodge the system and more children will be protected.
The presentation gives a description of the registry and a closer look at the life of an offender. Well-known cases nationally — such as Megan Kanka in 1994 in New Jersey, Jacob Wetterling in 1989 in Minnesota, and Adam Walsh in 1981 in Florida — are outlined to explain how laws have changed to increase penalties for perpetrators.
Convicted sex offenders in Cecil County must register with Cunningham’s office and report his or her whereabouts every six months. Cunningham performs address checks to verify the information. It is also his job to notify schools, day care facilities and other child-centered operations if an offender moves into that neighborhood.
Parents will learn the signs to help determine if their child is being groomed by a predator as well as how a child will act. The presentation also teaches the common behaviors of a predator.
One thing parents can do is keep the line of communication open with their children at every age. Both Cunningham and Chiominto said children should be heard when they speak of potential abuse. When children are the victim, Chiominto said, it is painfully obvious in their testimony.
“They certainly can’t make up some of the graphic details we’ve heard,” he said.
Cunningham’s presentation is, in places, a harsh re-telling of previous crimes against children. It is meant for adults or mature teens.
Sex Offender Registry presentations will be held at 7 tonight in Perryville Town Hall and April 12 in North East Town Hall. One is also planned for the June meeting of the Elkton Chamber and Alliance.