Burrell participates in student ID program
LOWER BURRELL: You can't take anything for granted when it comes to protecting your children, according to one Burrell School District parent who said she had that message driven home in a place where she least expected.
Kelly Kapelewski said that she was eager to have her son, Conner, participate in the Child Identification Program (CHIP) offered Wednesday and Thursday at Stewart Elementary School because it might be what brings her son home safely if her worst nightmare comes true.
"I feel better about there being a recovery if he were lost or abducted," she said.
CHIP is a program sponsored by the Pennsylvania Freemasons and the Crime Prevention Association of Pennsylvania. It employs three methods of identifying children if they are lost or abducted: a digital video of the child that captures height, appearance, speech, mannerisms and other personal traits; fingerprints; and DNA.
The video, fingerprints and DNA sample are given to the child's parents. The video can be updated each year -- at least for the next four years, which is the current commitment to the program given by the Freemasons.
With each term, the Freemasons grandmaster picks a charity to sponsor, said Jessica Hetherington, site manager for the Pennsylvania Crime Prevention Association. CHIP will be supported by the Freemasons until at least 2008 because of a commitment from the next grandmaster to continue the program, Hetherington said.
Kapelewski said she plans to have the video of her son updated annually if the school district continues to take part in CHIP. She also would like for her daughter, a middle school student, to participate.
The threat of having one of her children abducted or lost was driven home to Kapelewski one day while she and her children were playing in a place they assumed was safe -- their backyard, which is near the police station.
Kapelewski said someone escaped from police and ran through the yards in the neighborhood, giving her the scare of her life. Fortunately, the man didn't harm anyone but jumped a fence and continued running.
Police Chief Tracy Lindo said he wasn't aware of the incident.
Lindo also said he had no memory of there ever being a child abduction in Lower Burrell.
"What we're doing is taking a pro-active rather than reactive approach to this," he said.
The idea to have the district participate in the program came to Lindo after he attended a CHIP training seminar last fall. "When I saw it in action, I was very impressed with the program," he said.
"I think it's a program both the school district and parents can benefit from," Lindo said, adding that after learning about the program he approached the school board about bringing CHIP to the district's two elementary schools.
CHIP was offered to children in kindergarten and fifth grade at Bon Air Elementary School and to second- and third-graders at Stewart. Students need a permission slip from parents to take part.
Lindo wants to expand the program to include students in other grades. He expected about 400 students to have participated between the two schools.
According to Hetherington, Burrell School District is the first in Westmoreland County to offer CHIP.
"Not a lot of places even know the program is out there," she said.
According to information from CHIP, more than 1 million children are reported missing in the United States each year. While most are found, many are not and their cases get national attention.
The most recent high-profile case involved an 11-year-old Florida girl, Carlie Brucia, whose abduction was caught on tape. She was later found murdered.
Hetherington said there hasn't been a case in which CHIP information has had to be used since the program's launch at the beginning of the year.
"Hopefully no one will ever need to use it," she said, "but it's there."