Beware the Creepy Guy Offering You A Ride, Kids! …Or Not.

Hi Free-Rangers! You’ll like izyhhnnifk
this one.
And greetings from Boston where I’ve come to give a talk and also meet with the so-called “Sandwich Moms”! (A lovely group of moms from Sandwich who believe in Free-Ranging. Always nice to meet fellow believers!) — Lenore

42 Responses to Beware the Creepy Guy Offering You A Ride, Kids! …Or Not.

  1. bethan November 20, 2009 at 12:43 am #

    Glad it wasn’t a perv + attempted abduction, but adults should know better than to offer rides to kids. there are very few instances where it’s acceptable.

  2. Meg November 20, 2009 at 12:55 am #

    My mom was just telling me the other day about a quirky, sweet, older man in their neighborhood, who ALWAYS drive slowly and looked around at everything. Some kids reported him for stalking them, and the police showed up at his door.


  3. Meg November 20, 2009 at 1:00 am #

    Bethan — so now we are not allowed to be nice to other people, because there is a very small group of “bad” people, so that we teach our kids to assume everyone is bad? Where does that lead us?

    If you follow this logic, one would not eat, because of the possibility that there is tainted food out there. Because a very small percentage of food is bad, then we must conclude all food must be bad and to be avoided?

    Kindness to strangers is as important to human civilization, as food is to personal sustenance.

  4. LauraL November 20, 2009 at 1:15 am #

    I would say this grandmother was from a very different culture that doesn’t teach their children to be scared of every person they encounter. I posted to the comments there.

  5. marfmom November 20, 2009 at 1:17 am #

    Haha I have a good story about this! Senior year of college I was at a certain major university interviewing for a graduate school scholarship. One of my girlfriends dropped me off on one end of campus and I walked with my luggage to the other side. Along the way an elderly gentleman pulled up alongside me and offered me a ride. I thought about it for a moment, thanked him, and turned him down. I didn’t assume he was a crazy ax-murderer, but I just as a rule don’t get in cars with complete strangers.

    Turns out the kindly gentleman was a professor at the school I was interviewing…one of the deans in fact. Whoops! He then promptly told the story to other students and commended me for practicing “good public health” (it was a public health program). :-p

  6. Brian November 20, 2009 at 1:18 am #

    Are there parents among us who tell their kids that it’s OK to get into a car with someone that is unknown to them? Really?

    I would only ever offer a ride to a kid in that situation if they were in danger (lightening storm, really bad weather) or if I already knew one of the kids in the group.

    The kids did the right thing. A stranger offers you a ride in their car – run away. Tell somebody. Let the adults sort it out. If the woman had gotten in trouble, that’d be a problem.

  7. bethan November 20, 2009 at 1:27 am #

    Meg – not at all sure what your post has to do with my statement that adults should not offer rides to kids.

    Of course there are situations where it’s acceptable, but the general and very very widely accepted rule is that you do not get into people’s cars, whether your’e a kid or an adult.

    i’m outside of seattle. it’s pouring rain, and it often is. i have several cheap umbrellas, and i have given them away to kids who were walking through a deluge in a hoodie. i get out of my car and hand them my cell phone so they can call their adults, and i have waited with them until their adult comes.

    what i teach kids and adults is that kids need to feel comfortable approaching and dealing with strangers, and they need to assess each interaction based on the situation that they’re in.

    in this instance, the lady offered help and didn’t ask for help, so that’s good. the kids lied about the outcome, which is wretched and their parents should help them figure that out.

    what i know, and what i’ve experienced first hand and seen the outcome of numerous times second-hand: when you get into someone’s car or their house, then you are entirely at their mercy. i don’t care what the odds are on intentions – the severity of the consequences if you’re wrong does not bear any type of gamble.

    i entirely support community, free-range kids, etc., but in order for that to be attainable, and sustainable for those practicing it, communities need to realize the limits.

  8. Laura November 20, 2009 at 1:37 am #

    Getting into their car doesn’t just entail “what if” they’re a bad person either. What if they’re a bad DRIVER? You’ll figure that out a bit late. And younger kids w/o appropriate seats will be doubly vulnerable in any accident.

  9. somekindofmuffin November 20, 2009 at 1:44 am #

    bethan, I don’t understand why adults should know better. If you are a good person and want to help, there is no problem. The only “should know better” I can think of is “You should know better than to help children otherwise you will be labeled a perv and publicly vilified and have the police come visit you even if you have never ever done anything wrong.”

  10. Bob November 20, 2009 at 1:56 am #


  11. bethan November 20, 2009 at 1:59 am #


    please see my response to meg

    how are the kids supposed to _know_ that you’re nice and that some other person who offers them a ride isn’t nice? do you think you’re good intentions provide you with a visible aura that kids can identify?

    freerange is a great thing, and i fully support it. without common-sense, educated kids, and some community standards, it’s not so great.

  12. Uly November 20, 2009 at 2:11 am #

    Bethan, you’re right. Children really shouldn’t be randomly getting into cars with strangers. And these kids didn’t. And this woman didn’t pursue them. And no harm was done. What’s the problem here?

  13. Sky November 20, 2009 at 2:20 am #

    It’s funny that they mistook a grandmother for a 30 year old man, but not particularly free range newsworthy. I wouldn’t want my children agreeing to get into a car with a 30 year old man they did not know either.

  14. LauraL November 20, 2009 at 2:27 am #

    Sky, I think the point is, is that our children (as a whole) have been so petrified by the thought of ANY STRANGER talking to them that they panicked. I think it’s fine that they told an adult but I do hope this was a learning experience for them that not EVERYONE IS OUT TO GET THEM OMG. You know?

  15. Olivia November 20, 2009 at 3:02 am #

    I’m all for the kids not getting in the car with someone they don’t know, but I do think it’s strange they turned her into a creepy man, either in their stories (knowing it wasn’t the truth) or in their minds.

  16. Alexicographer November 20, 2009 at 3:19 am #

    I’m assuming that the children assumed or believed (based on pre-conceptions and/or panic) that the person driving the car was, in fact, a man (i.e. that they didn’t intentionally lie). But I also think it’s possible that the grandmother in question believed she “knew” the children. She may have recognized them as friends or classmates of her own grandchildren — it’s really not clear. And even if she did, they might not have recognized her (clearly, they didn’t come even close to identifying either her gender or her age correctly).

    This seems pretty straightfoward, no? A parent’s kid throws a birthday party; grandma’s there, she later recognizes classmates, they’ve forgotten her. She offers them a ride, they decline. What’s the problem?

    For the record (as an adult), I have both offered and accepted help from strangers, including getting into their vehicles and homes and letting them into mine. My guess is that those of you who say we should NEVER do this live in areas far more densely populated than I do. No, it’s not risk-free. But at times it doesn’t seem too risky, either (example: Two (!) young men (!) collided with a deer who bolted across the rural road outside my home. The deer was dead, their car was, too. They asked if they could come into my home to make a phone call. I let them. Would you?)

  17. Matt November 20, 2009 at 3:28 am #

    There is an undeniable difference between “get in the car kid” and “would you like a ride?”.

    Just like hitchhikers I don’t think there is any reason to be nervous. Generally speaking they’re much like wildlife in the woods. They are quite possibly more scared of me than I am of them.

    If there is one word of advice I would offer these folks it would be to never look down on anyone unless you’re helping them up.

  18. KarenW November 20, 2009 at 3:45 am #

    A few weeks ago, I was picking my kids up from school on a rainy day. I saw a boy that I thought I recognized as one of their friends, and I pulled up to him and asked if he wanted a ride. He turned around and – OOPS, wrong kid! I blurted out something like “sorry, never mind!” I was totally embarrassed and my kids thought it was hilarious. God, am I lucky that the police didn’t show up at my door! BTW, I also want to mention that it is good that kids know not to get into cars with strangers – even old ladies. But unless the kids are being followed and harassed, there should be no need to panic. A simple “no thank you” should do.

  19. Mimi November 20, 2009 at 4:11 am #

    >>There is an undeniable difference between “get in the car kid” and “would you like a ride?”.

    Sure… but are you saying that it’s safe to get in the car with someone who says “would you like a ride?” because their politeness proves they’re not a kidnapper? I mean, obviously not all kidnappers skulk around with trenchcoats and evil grins, cackling, “get in the car, kid!” Some start out with “Would you like a ride?”

    These were elementary school students — quite young — walking by themselves, and someone they didn’t know invited them into a car. Running away and telling an adult is exactly what they’re supposed to do… that’s what I would teach my free-range-kid to do as part of knowing how to walk home safely by herself.

  20. Dot Khan November 20, 2009 at 4:21 am #

    Nothing new, most of the REPORTS of abductions seem to be unfounded based on people’s false expectations that any encounter is dangerous.
    This is from my own town in Connectict.

  21. Uly November 20, 2009 at 5:03 am #

    These were elementary school students — quite young — walking by themselves, and someone they didn’t know invited them into a car. Running away and telling an adult is exactly what they’re supposed to do… that’s what I would teach my free-range-kid to do as part of knowing how to walk home safely by herself.

    The problem is that people use stories like this – and I know somebody who used exactly this incident! – to justify not letting their kids do anything. “Somebody tried to drag some kids into a car”. Like a cosmic game of telephone, isn’t it! Nobody tried to drag anybody. The kids did exactly as they should, nobody got hurt, and nobody was in any danger.

  22. Lihtox November 20, 2009 at 6:37 am #

    I think I’d have to agree that kids shouldn’t accept rides from strangers. But that doesn’t make it unethical for people to offer, particularly if they think the kids might know them.

    And of course, I’ve been taught from a young age about the dangers of picking up hitchhikers or of hitchhiking– but with all of this talk about risk assessment I wonder if the case against hitchhiking might not be built of the same irrational fear and rumor that the fear of abduction is? I’m not arguing for picking up hitchhikers, just posing the question.

    I suspect that, in some respects, little kids are safer than adults in these situations, because a) kids don’t carry around a lot of money or other things worth stealing, and b) most people have a soft spot for kids, even if they wouldn’t hesitate to attack an adult. (Of course, a kid doesn’t have the same ability to defend himself in the event of an attack, so it’s a mixed bag.) Just my suspicion.

  23. Mae Mae November 20, 2009 at 7:21 am #

    Yeah, my kids aren’t allowed to get in cars with anyone unless the person has their password. I don’t think this is being paranoid or teaching them to fear people. In fact, I think it may take away some of the fear as it alleviates them having to guess at who to go with. The rules are cut and dried.

    I think this is a FR issue because the kids turned this poor grandmother into a creepy middle-aged guy wearing a feathered cap. I’m having a hard time not laughing at loud at how it must have sounded being reported. It should have been a case of “No thank you”, the kids walk home and it’s over and done.

  24. Jen C November 20, 2009 at 1:23 pm #

    Get this…, as I was walking home from school with my kindergartner, a van pulled up to the curb next to us, the door opened, and out popped…..another kindergartner! She was getting a ride home from a man that wasn’t her father, and he had *GASP* more little girls in the van!!! Now what kind of parent lets their precious daughters ride home alone with a grown man??? I would have called the police on suspicion that he was kidnapping them, only I didn’t have my cell phone on me……

    (Please note the heavy sarcasm) 🙂

  25. Doug504 November 20, 2009 at 4:39 pm #

    Three real life stories.

    My mother gave her 5 year old grandchild the speech about “never talk to strangers”. He solemnly listened until she was done and then asked “What’s a stranger?”.

    A generation earlierI knew “never get in cars with strangers”. One day I flipped my bike and skidded along the pavement. I got up dazed and bleeding from various deep scrapes. A stranger stopped and offered my a ride home. I went with him and the only thing I remember about the short drive was trying to catch the blood so it wouldn’t drip on the floor of his car.

    A few years later (I was 14) we were on vacation and the car broke down. After some discussion, my mother told me to walk to the next exit (about a mile) and find help. I wasn’t too far down the road when a couple offered a ride. I accepted knowing it was dangerous (I was prepared to jump out of the moving car if they did anything “suspicious”). They took me to a car dealer and explained everything to the dealer. I rode back with the tow truck driver (another stranger). Years later I asked my mother why she sent me instead of my older brother. She smiled and said “He refused to go”.

    Thank heaven for kind strangers!

  26. Meg November 20, 2009 at 9:43 pm #

    What’s wrong with kids saying, “No thank you”?

    They don’t have to assume the person has bad intentions.

  27. Tracey Rollison November 20, 2009 at 10:29 pm #

    Very funny but sad story. I’d just like to see how the kids’ moms explain to the grandma’s family how their kids thought she was a 30-year-old man…

    My own accepting a ride from strangers story: when I was 20, I was coming to visit my fiance in a town an hour away. When I was about 10 minutes from his house, my car broke down, on the interstate beltway of a major city. There was heavy, heavy traffic–I didn’t know it but there was some major construction being done about a mile away from where I was–which was along a rather undeveloped part of town. The only building in site was a church across 8 lanes of traffic and a couple of fences.

    I knew I was probably 3 miles from an exit with anything on it; didn’t have a cell phone yet and didn’t think of going *back* a mile to that exit. So I started to cross the highway.

    I was trying to climb the fence on the other side of the highway when a dump truck stopped behind my car. The driver, a “scary man”, hopped out and hustled across the highway to offer me a ride. He had to hustle, in hindsight, to avoid getting hit.

    I explained that I was now an hour late meeting my fiance, who knew my route. He said it was right around the corner from his destination and could take me.

    So I got in his truck. He was on a work schedule where he had to check in. I was known to be late. There had to have been several score people who saw me get into his truck.

    Then we got stuck in the construction traffic for 1/2 hour and started talking. Turns out he was from my hometown and knew a bunch of the same people.

    He delivered me safely to my fiance’s house.

    Would I have a heart attack if my daughter did this? You bet. But she will have a cell phone! Would I do it again? Hopefully not.

    But it turned out fine. And there are probably others who’ve had similar experiences, but what we hear about are the ones that don’t turn out well. We don’t usually hear about Grandma offering kids a ride, until they report her as a scary 30-year-old man, or until a young inner-city guy rescues a wandering toddler instead of kidnapping her. Glad to see those stories out there!

  28. Jeanette November 20, 2009 at 10:53 pm #

    I live in a Suburban/Rural NY Town, there is a section of town that goes around the lake and has narrow winding streets where it is easy to get turned around (even after 12 years) – about 2 years ago there was a ‘scare’ in that part of town. Reports of someone trying to lure a some children into a car while they were waiting for the bus The story spread like wild fire. The kids ran away to safety, the school sent out an email with the information, restated the “Strranger Danger” creed and gave a description of the car. I believe that torches were lit and pitchforks were sharpened.
    The Police were given a description of the car and partial plate. The car was found in the next town later that day. The driver was questioned ….he had no idea what was going on. He had been lost that morning while driving and slowed down to ask some kids where a certain road was. The kids ran away …

  29. Judy November 21, 2009 at 12:26 am #

    Even grandmothers can be dangerous. Remember the McMartin daycare case from L.A.?? I’m raising fairly free-range kids but I wouldn’t want mine climbing in that car.

  30. Uly November 21, 2009 at 1:40 am #

    Remember the McMartin daycare case from L.A.?

    The one where there were no convictions and all the charges were dropped in 1990? That McMartin daycare case?

    I actually don’t remember this, as I was a young child at the time, but maybe that means my views of the event aren’t colored by what I thought back then.

    I’m raising fairly free-range kids but I wouldn’t want mine climbing in that car.

    And nobody said they should have gotten in the car. And they didn’t get in the car! However, after the fact they told a story about what happened (that a man attempted to force them into the car) that was at odds with actual events (a woman offered them a ride).

    I don’t believe they were maliciously lying. I do, however, believe that there’s something wrong about what we’re teaching kids that this is how they interpret events.

  31. sylvia_rachel November 21, 2009 at 5:24 am #

    Wow, that’s … odd.

    I wouldn’t want my kid getting in a car with someone she didn’t know, of course. But I would think she’d be able to tell a 69-year-old grandmother from a 20- to 40-year-old man, and I would sort of hope she would simply say “No thank you” and move on rather than freaking out and trying to get the person arrested. (I’m in favour of telling a grown-up. Just not of completely panicking.)

    Kids do exaggerate things to make them seem more exciting, though. Part of life. C’mon, someone ask me about the time a friend and I met a snake-handling male exotic dancer on our way home from school on the LRT …

  32. Jacqui November 21, 2009 at 6:34 am #

    Wow–Does anyone else think it’s a funny parallel that the accuser in that McMartin case actually turned out to have been suffering from paranoid delusions?

    Talk about a witch hunt. It’s scary that even non-crazy people are seeing these imaginary boogeymen everywhere.

  33. ebohlman November 21, 2009 at 9:39 am #

    Jacqui: In fact, the same pattern was seen in most, if not all, the daycare “molestation” cases in the 1980s: the initial accusation was made by a mother who was dual-diagnosis (i.e. had both a psychotic disorder and a substance-abuse disorder). In many of the cases, there was some possibility that the first kid named may in fact have been abused, but not by daycare staff; it’s quite likely that several abusers went unprosecuted because all the suspicion was focused in the wrong place. The next consistent part of the pattern was that lots of children at the center were rounded up and interrogated by therapists who had absolutely no experience in forensic investigation and who believed, before seeing them, that all of the chidren had been abused and it was just a matter of persistence to get them to “disclose” (one of the kids in the McMartin case came forward a few years ago and said he made up his allegation just so he could stop going to therapy; it was made clear to the kids that the sessions would continue indefinitely until they said they were abused). The therapists would tell each kid what the others were saying, and their stories gradually converged (in ordinary criminal cases, it would be serious misconduct for the prosecution to get the witnesses to collaborate on rehearsing their statements). And so forth. Many books have been written on the subject.

  34. animallover7100 November 21, 2009 at 2:15 pm #

    the storys not there can you put another link?

  35. Tracey Rollison November 21, 2009 at 11:05 pm #

    Wow, @ebohlman! THAT should be a major story here. I had no idea! I remember those cases–I was a teen or young adult at the time and it really made me terrified to put my kids, when eventually I had them, into daycare.

  36. ebohlman November 22, 2009 at 2:18 am #

    Tracey and others interested: Start with the Wikipedia entry for “day care sex abuse hysteria” and then check out some of the references. In particular look at the accounts of the Bernard Baran case, which started it all (Baran was finally completely exonerated this year) and the Dale Akiki case (high-profile seven-month trial that ended in acquittal after seven hours of deliberation) which pretty much ended the witchhunt in the US; both those cases had a strong scapegoating factor (Baran is gay, Akiki has some physical and developmental disabilities).

    The daycare allegations can’t be truly understood without also looking at the Satanic Ritual Abuse panic and the recovered-memories-of-incest movement that were going on at pretty much the same time. I suspect that part of the reason for the drop in the last decade or so in reported sex crimes against children is a reduction in bogus allegations, particularly a reduction in the use of false allegations of molestation as a hardball tactic in bitter divorce cases.

  37. KarenW November 22, 2009 at 12:28 pm #

    Wow, I am absolutely flabergasted that there are still people out there who believe the McMartins were guilty! It’s only the most famous case of false allegations of child sexual abuse ever. There was a major motion picture about it, as well as thousands of news stories.

  38. citysteader November 24, 2009 at 3:03 am #

    My older sister and I took a ride home from a stranger once, and it was no big deal. (Okay, this part is embarrassing) I’d nicked a tree with her car–pre-cell-phone era–and we walked to the post office to call a tow truck. We couldn’t get a hold of anybody in our family or anybody who lived nearby. A middle-aged man offered to give us a ride home, which was just a few miles away. We took it, and nothing bad happened to us. Well, until I got in trouble for my poor driving.

  39. zeitlinj November 24, 2009 at 5:20 am #

    Does anyone have the direct link to the actual story? The one Lenore posted doesn’t take you there.

  40. somekindofmuffin November 24, 2009 at 8:45 am #

    bethan, yes children shouldn’t be randomly getting into cars, but adults should never stop offering help.

  41. somekindofmuffin November 24, 2009 at 8:46 am #

    ebohlman, I grew up in San Diego and totally remember the Akiki case. It was horrible

  42. Sarah November 26, 2009 at 1:21 am #

    Once, when I was about 20, I was driving through my parents’ neighborhood and saw a middle school age boy walking home. Mostly just out of curiosity as to what his response, I pulled over and asked him if he’d like a ride home. He said, “Sure,” and hopped in.

    I was sort of surprised, and asked him as I drove him the mile to his house, “How’d you know I wasn’t crazy? I hope you don’t get in cars with strangers often.” He replied that I ‘looked pretty normal’ and figured I was probably OK. Also, he added, “How did you know I wasn’t crazy?” Which we just laughed about.

    1) Yes, I know I shouldn’t be running around tempting fate by offering kids rides home. But forgive me, I was younger.

    2) The kid had a point. This is why one usually doesn’t pick up hitchhikers.

    3) I delivered him to his house safely (and saved him the trouble of crossing a very dangerous major street) and we both had a story to tell.

    No big deal?