With parents and others here alarmed following the grisly abduction and murder of a 7-year-old in neighboring Canton, the Pickens County Sheriff took time Tuesday to discuss the crime and what can be done to keep children safe.
Sheriff Donnie Craig emphasized that nothing like the savage killing of the child in a Canton apartment complex had ever occurred in Pickens County, nor had Canton ever recorded a violent crime against a child like this before.
Craig said word his office has received from Canton law enforcement is that leads indicate the crime was likely committed by someone living nearby and familiar with the apartment complex and was not necessarily a threat here.[Editor's Note Friday update: this did turn out to be the case as a maintenance man was arrested].
Sheriff Craig said this shocking incident should be a wake-up call to everyone for taking precautions to ensure that their children or any children in their community remain safe.
“We may have sat back and said things like this only happen in Fulton or DeKalb counties,” the sheriff said. “But this is a prime example of it happening right in our own backyard. We, as parents, need to take responsibility for keeping our kids safe.”
Craig said this type of crime is hard to prevent from law enforcement agencies without an active community keeping watch.
“It’s one of our biggest fears [this random crime],” he said. “It’s not like a burglary, where you can beef up patrols. In this case, you are dealing with a predator. Parents have to take a more active role.”
Craig said the number one crime prevention tip he would advise for anyone, parent or not, is to “make that call.” He said people too often witness something suspicious but do not report it.
“You’d be amazed that people just won’t call. People will tell me later, ‘I didn’t want to bother y’all,’” the sheriff said with an exasperated chuckle.
If someone sees something suspicious, they should call either 911 or the sheriff’s office at 706-253-8900. Even if it’s not an emergency, Sheriff Craig said phone calls from people who think someone looks suspicious or even that “something just doesn’t look right” are welcome.
“The worst thing is going to be when they find the person who did this [the Canton killing],” somebody is going to say, ‘I had a feeling about that guy all along, or I thought something wasn’t right,’” the sheriff said.
For parents, Sheriff Craig said the most important safety precaution is to be nosey. “It doesn’t matter if it makes your kids mad, ask: Where are you going? Who is going to be there? Who all is hanging out there? Who else is spending the night?”
Craig said it’s also important to monitor your child’s communications online.
Kris Stancil, head of the sheriff’s investigation unit, said the office is currently working a case where a 14-year-old Pickens County female met a Louisiana man online at Facebook and at another chat room, with the 24-year-old male eventually coming here and meeting the girl. The man now faces charges.
“Parents really need to amp up and keep a close eye on their kids online,” Stancil said.
Craig and Stancil, both fathers themselves, said there are a lot judgment calls on things like how old a babysitter should be; how far your child should be able to roam on a bicycle and how closely you watch them.
Even if you know your neighbors, the law enforcement officers said it’s hard to know who might be passing through. In the Canton case, Stancil worked on the search as part of a contingent of Pickens officers who assisted. He said the apartments where the crime happened are a nice gated community, certainly not what you would think of as a crime area.
Stancil said this could have been a case where someone had watched that child before taking her, as she was known to be very friendly with people in the area. He said a couple of things parents should look out for are cars in an area with no clear business there or any stranger who tries to interact with a child for any reason.
The sheriff’s office maintains a list of all convicted sex offenders in the county at its website [www.pickensgasheriff.com]. Craig said all registered sex offenders here are closely monitored.
Lists with photos of sex offenders are displayed in most county public buildings.
Another recommended resource for parents who want to assess their own precautions or to talk to their children about “stranger danger” is the McGruff the Crime Dog materials for sale at www.mcgruff-safe-kids.com