The mother of a Garfield Elementary School student is prodding administrators to beef up security during an annual picnic held in late May following what may have been an attempted kidnapping at this year’s outing.
According to Carol Seley, her 9-year-old son was approached by a woman he did not recognize during the May 22 All School Picnic held at the Park District on Harrison Street. That woman, according to the account relayed to Seley by her son, claimed to know the boy from previous encounters on a District 91 school bus. However, said Seley, her son does not ride the bus to school and was frightened by the woman’s requests that he accompany her.
“Some woman came up to him and said, ‘Come right around with me,'” Seley said.
Her son proclaimed that he didn’t recognize the woman and she responded by pointing to other children at the picnic she claimed to know. When the woman did so, said Seley, her son said he did not recognize the children the woman pointed to, and he ran from her.
The woman did not attempt to grab her son, according to Seley, and never made physical contact with him.
Several police officers were already at the picnic for general security purposes and quickly searched the area with the child to see if the woman could be spotted, according to school and police officials. No suspects were taken into custody, and Sgt. Mike Keating said the incident would be investigated.
“To be on the safe side it’s been documented and I’ll have one of my detectives pore over all the stuff,” Keating said. “Obviously it’s something we take very seriously.”
District 91 Superintendent Lou Cavallo was at the picnic when the student was allegedly approached and said that, unfortunately, the incident confirmed his initial misgivings about the event. This year’s picnic was Cavallo’s first and the superintendent said that prior to the event he was concerned with the logistics of safely hosting an outdoor event with more than 1,000 children from Forest Park’s private and public schools. Chief among those is the general public’s unchecked access to the park while the picnic is being held.
“When we go on field trips we take a lot of precautions,” Cavallo said, and those measures are not in place during the picnic.
Though the student responded appropriately to the potential threat and supervisors took immediate action, Cavallo said there will be changes to next year’s event. He declined to comment on specific changes that might be made, but said teachers and administrators will discuss those options in the fall when school reconvenes.
As many parents have traditionally done, Seley attended the 35th Annual All School Picnic. She was with her son moments after he was approached and said he was clearly frightened by the experience. The response from police and school officials was swift, said Seley, but she’s hoping that such an encounter can be avoided altogether.
Because of an apparent miscommunication between Seley and the officers at the picnic, a police report was not filed until June 5, according to Seley and Keating. Authorities did not receive any other reports of a woman attempting to lure children from the picnic, nor have the police been informed of any recent attempts to abduct a child elsewhere in the village.