Jacksonville, FL - A local mother grieving the loss of her 8-year-old daughter highlights a new way of thinking about strangers that the Florida Department of Children and Families wants you to keep in mind.
“You have to assume, as a parent, that there are people out there who want to hurt your children,” says DCF Spokesman John Harrell.
Friday night, the mother of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle was befriended by a man- believed to be Donald Smith- who offered to buy the down-and-out family some clothing.
“If you think that something is too good to be true, yes, you should be skeptical,” Harrell says.
Once in the store, Smith allegedly walked away to buy food at the front, and Cherish followed him. They didn’t stop for food, however, instead leaving in his van. Cherish’s body was found the next day near a Northside Church.
Harrell says there’s essentially a two-fold approach to handling “stranger danger”- one for your child and one for yourself.
While the lessons to teach your child are not new, Harrell says they’re ever more important nowadays.
“Teach your children how to say no- they have the right to say no, and loudly,” he says.
Harrell says there’s no reason an adult- especially one unknown to the family- should ask for help from a child. If that’s the case the answer should always be for the child to run to the closest “safe grownup” for help.
It’s important for you to be even more vigilant as well.
“Parents should not let their children out of their sight, especially when you’re talking about strangers,” he says.
That means being skeptical, careful and cautious. Harrell says trust with your child can only truly be earned with time.
He adds, however, that serious crimes are also committed against children by people they know, so always be on the lookout for warning signs like bruises or a sudden change in attitude. If you have any suspicion of abuse, you can contact the DCF Abuse Hotline at 1-800-962-2873.
Predators and offenders can also pose as someone your child may generally trust. Smith, the suspect in Perrywinkle’s murder, has a prior conviction for impersonating a DCF officer and getting a child to talk about her body. Harrell says any DCF officer should show you his or her badge, which has a special hologram that cannot be replicated. Additionally, you can always call the employee’s supervisor to verify employment.
Harrell is not commenting specifically on the Perrywinkle case, other than to say it truly is tragic. He will not confirm whether or not DCF is investigating the home, where two other children live. Nor is WOKV commenting on the events as they happened or responsibility of those involved. We wanted to use this sad course of events as impetus to encourage you to reevaluate how you treat safety procedures with your children.