Children Hijacked

January 31, 1995|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,Sun Staff Writer

The Weissmann children never made it to school yesterday morning.

Eleven-year-old Shraga Weissmann and his five younger siblings hopped into the family van as it warmed up in the driveway of their Northwest Baltimore home. As their mother approached the idling van, an unidentified male jumped into the driver's seat and sped off.

The hijacker took them on a wild and dangerous ride, including TC collision with another van. The suspect -- thought to be in his late teens -- was still at large last night. Four of the children, including Shraga, were treated and released from Sinai Hospital with cuts and bruises.

"It was a little scary," Shraga said yesterday at the emergency room with his father, Daniel Weissmann, by his side.

Shraga's mother, Grace, was taking her five boys, ages 6 through 11, to the Torah Institute, an all-male Orthodox Jewish school. Her 3-year-old daughter, Rachel, was along for the ride.

About 10 minutes before the hijacking, Mrs. Weissmann started up the van outside their home in the 3800 block of Labyrinth Road. She left the keys in the ignition and went back inside to help her children get ready for school, she said.

When it came time to leave about 8 a.m., she said her children --ed out the door and into the car.

"I'm a little slow getting down the stairs," said Mrs. Weissmann, a mother of nine who broke her kneecap last year when she slipped on a piece of ice. "They were about 5 or 10 feet in front of me."

The next thing she knew, a young man had sauntered in front of her and hopped into the van. Police said she put up a brief struggle, opening up the driver-side door, but the suspect pulled it shut.

After his mother's frantic attempt to save her children, Shraga said he tried to escape.

"I opened the door, then he started driving away," Shraga said. "He told me to close it, and I did."

Shraga said his backpack fell out of the car.

"Do you think your teacher will believe this excuse for not doing your homework?" his father asked the boy as he was treated at the emergency room.

The suspect drove the 1984 blue Dodge Ram van west on Labyrinth Road and made a left on Gist Avenue. He ran a stop sign at the intersection of Gist Avenue and Clarks Lane, where the van was broadsided by a 1994 white Plymouth Voyager.

Rachel, who was not strapped into her car seat, suffered a cut above her left eye. Shraga received a cut on his right leg. Both needed stitches.

After the accident, the driver attempted to calm the children.

"He said, 'Sssh, I'll let you go,' " Shraga said.

And he did, driving the van east on Fords Lane and parking it in the rear lot of the Har Sinai synagogue.

The suspect, a black male about 6 feet tall, in his late teens wearing a red and blue skullcap and a blue jogging suit, fled.

That's when Shraga, whose name in Hebrew means "light," took charge.

He directed his five siblings to the nearby house of one his friends, 11-year-old Danny Streger. Shraga's sister, Rachel, was crying, so one of his younger brothers carried her half of the way there.

Sue Streger was trying to get some of her own children off to the Orthodox Jewish school, Bais Yaakov. It was about 8:25 a.m. The front door of her home in the 3700 block of Bancroft Road was open. She was surprised to see the six Weissmann children. Two of them were bleeding. All of them were trying to talk at the same time.

Mrs. Streger called the police and an ambulance for the children. She was impressed that they had reacted so well to the crisis.

"They were smart to go to a house they knew to get help," she said. "They all stuck together."

Police said the incident points up the danger of leaving children unattended in a motor vehicle -- particularly with the engine running.

"The family is extremely fortunate that the children were relatively unharmed, given the totality of the circumstances," said Officer Rob Weinhold, a police spokesman. "The family and the community can count their blessings."

Mr. Weissmann did just that, relieved to have his children home.

"They'll be all right, that's all that matters," he said. "You can replace the van. If he wanted the van, he could have taken the van."

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