On May 8, a fourth-grade student from Evergreen Elementary did not get off his bus. A full search and investigation was in progress by the time he was able to return to school nearly two hours later. As a result, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department is seeking the assistance of the public in locating an abduction suspect.
Pierce County Detective Theresa Berg says many tips have been received and there was one reported sighting the day after the incident, but no arrests have been made. “I tend to think it’s somebody within the area,” she said.
As the school term draws to an end, Berg is concerned about the safety of children during summer vacation. Summer is a time to be extra careful, she warns, and points out that this rural community has lots of woods and remote areas that can be dangerous. People on the Key Peninsula should keep the incident at Evergreen in their thoughts, she said: “I don’t want people freaked out or panicked but we must always watch over the kids; even the kids who are not ours.”
Berg investigated the scene of the incident, which was in the woods near the school. She found the boy’s personal property including his backpack and library book “tossed and thrown and scattered.”
“We are blessed that he came back,” she said. Berg was impressed with the details and description the boy was able to provide. “Frankly, he is better than most adults,” she said.
When asked whether this incident could be a false alarm, Berg said law enforcement agents are “skeptical kind of folks” but that she has “no reason to doubt this kid,” referring to the Evergreen victim.
“He’s a good kid. I believe him. There is no reason not to believe him,” she said.
Evergreen Principal Jacque Crisman said the experience was scary for the family and for the staff. When the child’s mother called to report he had not gotten off the bus, Crisman followed an established procedure. On matters of safety, the school has “a lot of things in place already,” she said.
Phone calls were made to the district transportation office and to friends of the student. The staff immediately checked buildings — classrooms and bathrooms — and did a sweep of the park and the playfields. The parents came to the school, the sheriff was called, and within about a two-hour timeframe the boy walked back onto the campus. Berg sent him to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma for examination, and he was treated for facial and head injuries. Police dogs were brought in to search the area for traces of the suspect.
Safety procedures are the first priority for Peninsula School District, according to Superintendent Jim Coolican. He says parents expect an education for their child but first and foremost, there is an expectation of safety. After the recent events that have threatened the safety of the district’s students, principals, administrators, and law enforcement agencies have met together to go over safety procedures from “top to bottom.” Coolican says safety is a dynamic factor and no single set of strategies can guarantee absolute safety. The goal of these meetings is to find out what else can be done and determine the best strategies.
Many parents have their own strategy in mind. After both the Evergreen incident and the recent KPMS event, parents showed up at the schools offering reinforcement. PSD Deputy Superintendent Marcia Harris was at Evergreen the day after the alleged abduction and observed the additional parent help in the building.
“What an incredible community we have,” she said. Harris assisted with a staff meeting that morning, outlining a common message to be given in each classroom appropriate to age level. The message included rules about “Stranger Danger” and stressed using the buddy system and saying “no” to strangers.
Crisman believes that safety must be important in the school and at home. “The most important thing for us to remember is that we want to keep our kids safe and that we are always looking for ways to make it safer for our kids here at school,” she said. “We also want families to know how to help kids keep safe at home as well. This incident reminds us how vigilant we need to be when it comes to safety.”
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS