Safety for students on their way to, from bus stop a top priority

| Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 7:43 p.m.

Kari Lefler and Melissa Harrison keep a close eye on their children every day at the bus stop in Cranberry's Briar Creek development, but in different ways.

Harrison watches from home as her two oldest children, Matthew, 15, and Anastasia, 13, walk to the bus stop, because it is just across the street. She walks her second youngest child, John, 7, to and from the bus stop.

“There are always so many kids and about 80 to 90 percent of the parents there, but we like to stay with him until the bus gets there to keep him calm,” Harrison said.

Lefler's oldest child, Colleen, 15, gets driven to and from the bus stop by a neighbor who has a daughter that is the same age, but she drives her younger daughters, Brynn, 8, and Teghin, 7, to and from the bus stop.

“I feel my younger daughters are definitely not old enough to walk on their own, and I want to make sure they're safe,” Lefler said. “I'm in a panic if I don't think I can get to the bus stop in time to pick them up.”

But not every parent can take their children to and from the bus stop every day, leaving some children to walk alone.

“If parents are actually unable to walk them to the bus stop, then they should try to work out something with neighbors so that someone may supervise the bus stop or the route to the bus stop,” said Sgt. Chuck Mascellino of Cranberry.

Marcia Ellis, the children and youth program manager at the National Crime Prevention Center, said that parents should also plan a response with their children if approached by a stranger.

“Children need to be aware of their surroundings and what adults are in the area that can help them if they're faced with a stranger,” Ellis said.

While there were no reported missing children or attempted abductions in Cranberry last year, law enforcement around the country entered nearly 500,000 children in the FBI's National Crime Information Center database in 2012.

However, only 411 cases were classified as stereotypical abductions - meaning that the abductor was a stranger to the child.

Still, Mascellino said every parent should talk to their children about stranger danger and what to do if a stranger approaches them.

“Someone could say they've lost a pet, promise candy or even say their parents wanted them to be picked up, but children should never go with them,” Mascellino said.

Ellis said that parents should also encourage their children to talk about anyone they know that makes them feel uneasy.

“Parents should constantly have conversations with their children, not to scare them, but to let them know they should speak up if someone they know makes them uncomfortable,” Ellis said.

Mascellino said that if approached by a stranger or someone that makes them uneasy, children need to draw attention to themselves.

“Scream, yell, run, whatever children have to do to get someone else's attention to let them know they're in danger,” Mascellino said.

If a child is unaccounted for, parents or a child's caretaker should immediately contact police for assistance.

Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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