A stranger tried to lure a 13-year-old Arnold Middle School student into his sport-utility vehicle Monday as the girl waited for a ride just outside a breezeway at nearby Allen Elementary School, according to Columbus police and the girl’s family.
Police said they were called at 4:40 p.m. to the 5201 23rd Ave. elementary school, where the girl told them she had walked from Arnold Middle School, 2011 51st St., to wait under the breezeway for her family to pick her up. The Arnold campus adjoins Allen’s.
About 4 p.m., a black man about 50 years old, wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt and driving a dark brown SUV, came by and invited her into his vehicle, she reported. She repeatedly refused, then told him she had a cell phone and threatened to call the police, she said.
The man made an obscene gesture, said “F—k you” and drove quickly away, the girl said.
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The SUV’s license plate had a blue star on it, she said. She could not say whether that was an emblem affixed to the tag or part of its design.
She said it was raining, and the man offered her a ride to get out of the weather. As he further entreated her, she noticed he had a tear drop tattoo on one eye and a “scratchy” voice, she said. The vehicle’s front seat was covered in plastic, she said.
The eighth-grader said her grandmother was to pick her up, and she thought she saw the grandmother’s black pickup coming, so she walked from the breezeway across Allen’s entrance road to look. She was starting back to the breezeway when the man pulled up, she said. He drove toward Arnold afterward, she said.
Her grandmother arrived minutes later, and they tried to report the incident at Arnold, but a school secretary told them to call police from Allen because it didn’t happen on Arnold’s campus, the grandmother said.
Muscogee County School District representative Valerie Fuller confirmed this was reported to the district, but she thought it happened off campus.
The district calls a student walking home a “walker.” In an email regarding the Monday incident, Fuller wrote: “School administrators say the grandparent instructed the student to be a walker for pick-up at the corner of 23rd Avenue and 51st Street.”
The girl and her grandmother said she regularly walked across a field from Arnold to Allen to wait under the breezeway. Because the Arnold and Allen properties connect, she never stepped off school grounds.
Fuller said the district has increased patrols around the schools and sent parents messages about keeping children safe.
She said the district advises parents never to leave students walking off a school campus unsupervised. If an adult cannot accompany them, they should walk in pairs or groups for protection. Schools don’t have the staff and security to escort every student leaving campus to walk home or to a pickup spot, she said.
The girl’s grandmother got the message the school sent out, and thought it should have added a warning about what the girl had reported, not just policies and advice.
The Columbus Police Department Special Victims Unit will follow up on the patrol officer’s report, said police Maj. J.D. Hawk.