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Safety tips could be lifesavers for kids

December 10, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

SPRING MILLS, W.Va. - Third-grader Corey Smith held onto a small dark blue and red bicycle Tuesday morning as if his life depended on it. Had it not been a practice drill, his life very well might have been on the line.

West Virginia State Police Trooper R.T. Dyroff and John Attilli, with Rosedale Funeral Home in Martinsburg, W.Va., taught students at Potomack Intermediate School how to avoid being abducted, or what to do if it happens. As part of the program, called Escape School, students watched a 20-minute video and then practiced techniques shown on the tape.

One technique showed what to do should someone try to grab a child off a bike. Students were taught to either get off the bike and shove it toward the assailant or grip it tightly, forcing the attacker to drag it.

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"Criminals are lazy people. They're lazy," Dyroff told the students. "If you're hard to get, they'd have to work to get you. They don't want to work."

Students were told to run away if an adult stops his car and asks for directions or if he asks for help finding a lost pet. Both are "lures" commonly used in child abductions.

A stranger should be considered dangerous based on his actions, not his appearance. A child running from a possible abductor should grab onto an adult's arm and refuse to let go until the adult seeks help, a process called the "Velcro technique."

To demonstrate, Dyroff pretended to talk to teacher Alisa Hartofelis after telling a student to use the technique. The first volunteer walked quietly over to Dyroff and tapped him on his arm. He ignored her.

The second volunteer caused many of his fellow third-graders to laugh when he ran to Dyroff and grabbed his arm, yelling, "I need help! I need help! I need help!"

Much better, Dyroff said.

"See, I can't get rid of him, that's the idea," he said. Because the program is not a "stranger-danger" one, students are taught to seek help from people they do not know, including firefighters, if they are in trouble. "A 'stranger' may just be the person that will help a child in a potentially dangerous situation," according to an informational sheet about the program provided by Attilli.

Students also learned to throw their arm around in a large arc if someone grabs it.

When Dyroff asked for volunteers to demonstrate the "windmill technique," several children quickly raised their hands. When he grabbed his first volunteer's arm, she threw her arm around like she was throwing a softball, per Dyroff's advice. She successfully caused Dyroff to lose his grip.

"See, my arm doesn't bend that way. I can't hold her," he told the class.

All of the students at Potomack Intermediate who attended the class will be entered into a drawing to win the bicycle, which garnered some praise as Attilli rolled it into Hartofelis' classroom. One boy remarked that it was cool and asked who it belonged to. Hartofelis replied jokingly that it was hers, prompting the boy to say he was going to come to her house to steal it.

Attilli and Dyroff have been to several schools in the county teaching the course, including Berkeley Heights Gerrardstown, Rosemont and Opequon elementary schools and Orchard View Intermediate. They are scheduled to visit Hedgesville (W.Va.) Elementary on Friday.

Rosedale Funeral Home is an affiliate of Dignity Memorial, which is the national sponsor of the Escape School program.

Attilli encouraged the students to go to www.escapeschool.com on the Web, where they can take a 10-question quiz about what they learned and print out a "graduation" certificate.

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