"There's always that special situation where there might be somebody they don't know or don't know well, so that's why we came up with a code word," the family explained.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on October 19, 2021. It has since been updated.
Arizona police praised a family's clever way of teaching their daughter what to do when approached by strangers after the nifty trick saved the child from a potential kidnapping attempt. In a warning posted to Facebook after the child's narrow escape, the Pinal County Sheriff's Office revealed that a deputy responded to a home in the North Pecan Creek neighborhood to investigate an attempted luring. "At 3:45 p.m., an 11-year-old girl was walking with a friend near a park in the neighborhood when a man, driving a white SUV, pulled up next to them. The man told the girl that her [brother was] in a serious accident and she needed to go with him," the post read.
Girl foils possible kidnapping by asking for code word: A quick-thinking 10-year-old girl is being praised for thwarting a possible kidnapping attempt after she asked a man who approached her for a "code word" when he tried to lure her into his car. https://t.co/bv9TbFfkzR pic.twitter.com/GjbJAe0dpR— North Carolina jobs (@NCarolina_HR) November 13, 2018
While most individuals might've gotten into the car without a second thought due to the nature of news they just received, the little girl kept a level head and asked the stranger what the "code word" was. He obviously didn't know the code word and drove off, leaving the child alone. "Kudos to the parents of this child for having a code word and talking about to their children about stranger danger," said Sheriff Mark Lamb. "We hope by putting this out, it will encourage parents to have that conversation and create a plan with their children, so they know what to do if they are in that situation."
What a smart way to combat stranger danger! An 11-year-old girl's use of a family "code word" to thwart potential kidnapping has drawn praise from police. https://t.co/RDpubGkGJi pic.twitter.com/wHTMOAhEuN— Good Morning America (@GMA) November 13, 2018
At a press conference following the incident, the girl's mother, Brenda James, revealed that she got a tearful call from her daughter moments after the stranger "tried to take her." "My daughter called me crying upset and she told me that 'some guy tried to take her,'" James said. "He told her her brother had been in a serious accident and she needed to come home with him."
It is the parents’ responsibility to come up with a family code word and to prepare their children for the outside world. I think schools have enough to do. Perhaps this one can be put on the family.— Cristina🌸 (@Cricrifi) November 14, 2018
"So I just kind of calmed her down and she told me that some guy tried to take her and all my thoughts went out the window at that point and I got in my car and I drove home," she added. Speaking to Good Morning America, the girl shared what was going through her mind during the encounter. "I was terrified," she said. "I was terrified that my brother was in an actual accident, that he could be hurt." The girl added that she was also aware the man might have bad intentions. When she asked him what the code word was, she said, "He just kind of froze, his face. And drove off."
This mom is to be commended for preparing her daughter. Tough conversations need to be had with young children so they know the dangers that surround them. Easier to live in denial, but this open talk saved her daughter’s life. 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻— Cristina🌸 (@Cricrifi) November 14, 2018
"I was scared," she added, "because if I had popped in, I don't know what he would have done to me." James explained that the family came up with the code word system to save their children from such situations. "They know who can pick them up and who can't," she said of her children. "But there's always that special situation where there might be somebody they don't know or don't know well, so that's why we came up with a code word."
Mom credits a code word with saving her daughter from a kidnapping attempt:— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) November 11, 2018
When a man in an SUV said the girl needed to come with him, she knew to ask for a code word that her family had set up to make sure anyone picking her up was really supposed to.@kristendahlgren reports pic.twitter.com/K5YMJjbJ5S
Saying "kudos" to the parents for "having a code word and talking about to their children about 'stranger danger,'" Sheriff Mark Lamb praised the family's clever tactic. "The mother of this child did an awesome job teaching a code word to her child, and that potentially saved that girl's life," he said. "We hope by putting this out, it will encourage parents to have that conversation and create a plan with their children, so they know what to do if they are in that situation." Authorities revealed that other children also saw that vehicle in the neighborhood, "circling the park several times a day."
EXCLUSIVE: 10-year-old girl who used family "code word" to thwart potential kidnapping speaks out. https://t.co/SjBC8McOqb pic.twitter.com/1CIPuwlsic— ABC News (@ABC) November 14, 2018
Callahan Walsh, an expert with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, explained that children usually get away from potential threats due to "something they did on their own volition. Eighty percent of the time children are able to get away from the would-be abductor is because of something they did on their own volition. And that's kicking and screaming or using the code word."