Parents at Swansfield Elementary School in Columbia applauded the principal's swift action in reporting an attempted child abduction Monday but questioned the Police Department's decision to delay notifying the school for two days.
"I think they could have acted a lot faster in notifying us, at least within a day," said Janet Jean, who has a first-grade daughter at Swansfield. "It alarmed me. It really brings you back to remembering how careful you have to be."
Several parents interviewed Friday said ordinarily they might let their children walk home or part of the way home with friends or siblings. But after learning of the incident, they were taking no chances and came to wait for the children at the school themselves.
Thomas Neidenbach, president of the Swansfield PTA, said he was "rattled" when called at work by his son Wednesday afternoon and told that the principal had announced there had been an attempted abduction within a mile of the school.
Police said at about 12:40 p.m. Monday, a woman and her 3-year-old daughter were waiting near a school bus stop for the arrival of the woman's 5-year old child, a student at Swansfield Elementary. The 3-year-old was within the woman's sight but a few yards away when a small white pickup pulled up to the curb near the intersection of Little Patuxent Parkway and Green Meadow Drive.
A black male in his twenties jumped out of the truck and started running toward the child with a blanket in his arms, police said. When the woman screamed at the child to run and called for help, the man ran back to the truck and drove away, police said.
The mother told police there was a tree between the truck and the spot where she was standing, so the driver of the truck might not have seen her at first.
County police said Wednesday that the mother filed a police report about 12:45 p.m. Monday.
When Principal Thomas M. Bruner first learned of the incident, from a police officer at about 3:10 p.m. Wednesday, he immediately announced over the loudspeaker system that children should be extra-cautious on their way home from school. Because the children were about to be sent home when he got word of the incident, he said a verbal warning was the best he could do.
"I did not want to wait another day to notify parents," he said.
"Sometimes these crazy people are out there in the community."
On Thursday, Bruner sent home a written notice with the school's 600 students describing the incident and the suspect and requesting that parents talk with their children about safety.
Neidenbach and other parents said they were satisfied with how the principal handled the situation. The big question they have is why it took police more than two days to notify the school.
Sgt. Robert Adams, acting police spokesman, said Friday that the department has specific policies for notifying schools about incidents that occur on school grounds. Other incidents are handled more on a "case-to-case basis," he said.
When the investigating officer spoke to the mother the next day, she told him that she had already called the school, Adams said.
He said the department decided to call the school the following day -- Wednesday -- "as a backup" to make sure the principal knew.
Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said the department generally is extremely cooperative, informing the school system about incidents such as the attempted abduction. However, as of Wednesday night, he had still not been informed about the crime.
He said that he was not sure why there would have been a delay but that he was confident the police had a reasonable explanation.
Associate Superintendent James R. McGowan, who was acting on Hickey's behalf Friday, said he first learned of the incident Friday when called by a reporter.
"I think it (the incident) is definitely serious," he said. Ordinarily, he added, he would expect the school system to be notified promptly. He said there may be reasons why there was a delay, and he would not speculate as to what they could be until he spoke with police.
"I will converse with the police to get more information to make sure no wires were crossed," he said.
Neidenbach said he is speaking to the executive board of the PTA and the principal to see if they can arrange a safety program for children, particularly those who go home from school alone in the afternoon.