The Custer County Sheriff’s Office and Hermosa town marshal are investigating a claim by a Hermosa School student that a man attempted to abduct her the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 4.
Custer County Sheriff Marty Mechaley said the girl alleges that at around 5:23 p.m. that evening she was walking home from volleyball practice when a white male emerged from a dark-colored van and offered her a ride home. The man was described as older, pale with short hair and wearing a black hoody.
The girl said the man grabbed her arm and tried to pull her toward his vehicle, at which point she said she kicked the man in the groin, hit him in the face and threw water at him, which distracted him long enough for her to get away. The man, who was by himself, is then alleged to have left the school area and driven toward Hwy. 79.
The girl reported the incident to her family, who then contacted law enforcement. Law enforcement then reached out to the school about the incident.
That followed a seperate incident on Monday of last week in which it was reported a man was asking children if they wanted a ride home from school, an incident alleged to have been witnessed by the father of the student involved in the second incident. Monday’s incident came to light during a meeting about the second incident. However, the desciption of that man is that he had long gray hair.
Hermosa Town Marshal Jim Daggett took the call from the second incident and contacted the school, which in turn contacted the sheriff’s office. The school district also sent a message to all Hermosa School parents about what had happened and to be alert for anything suspicious.
The sheriff’s office sent a deputy to talk to the girl involved in the second incident, and subsequently the first incident. Deputies looked for a vehicle matching the descripton the following morning and continued the search into the evening. Also present at the meeting were Daggett, Hermosa School principal Lori Enright, a school counselor and the second victim’s father.
“I feel like it happened. She got pretty good details as to what happened,” Daggett said.
Mechaley said the sheriff’s office is working with Daggett to continue to piece together what happened.
“We’re still following up on it,” he said.
After learning the second incident had escalated to an attempted abduction, Custer School District superintendent Mark Naugle talked to school attorney Tracy Kelley and it was decided the district would send a message to every parent in the school district about the incidents. Other schools in the area were notified as well.
In addition, all children who walk home from the Hermosa school were escorted by staff members at the end of the day, while other staff members drove the streets. Staff were also encouraged to be on the lookout after sports practices and games.
Principals at both the Hermosa and Custer schools talked to students about how to deal with strangers who approach them.
“We just tried to keep our kids and parents aware to look out for things,” Naugle said. “Lori did a really good job working with the marshal and her staff to protect the kids.”
Mechaley said it’s not illegal to offer someone a ride, but when a stranger approaches a child and attempts to grab them or coerce them into coming with them, it could reach into the realm of enticing a child or attempted kidnapping.
Mechaley said the children of Hermosa are not in any immediate danger, but added it’s important for parents to talk with their children about situations such as these. Living in a small town does not guarantee such a thing could never happen.
“You should have a plan in place. Oftentimes there is a code word that parents will use if something happens, especially in a rural area where you might have to have someone pick your kids up after school,” he said. “You shouldn’t wait for something like this to take precautions. You should be doing it already. It’s all about safety.”
Daggett said when incidents like this happen, it is greatly beneficial to law enforcement if a license plate number is written down or remembered.
“We really don’t know (who it is),” he said. “It could be anybody from anywhere.”
Daggett said neighborhood watch in Hermosa was alerted and that the school district has done an excellent job of informing parents of what happened. The more eyes watching and looking for something out of the ordinary, he said, the better.
“This can happen anywhere,” he said.