Tether Ball: A Survival Story.
It doesn’t happen often, thankfully, but every once in awhile I run across a news story or get an Amber Alert on my phone about a child being kidnapped by a parent, grandparent, or even more terrifying — by a stranger.
Most recently, it was the story of 3-year old in Northern California, who was abducted at the playground while with her grandfather, that sent chills down my spine.
“There was basically a tug-of-war over the granddaughter,” Sgt. Gary Hopping of the Auburn Police Department told The Washington Post.
While the details of this particular story — a tug of war between the kidnapper and the grandfather — are horrific, it’s hard to truly understand how truly terrified this child was during this chaotic experience.
But, I can.
As a fourth grader at Del Cerro Elementary school I loved three things: my teacher Mrs. Goddickson, reading and tether ball. One day during recess, a man walked onto our quad, up to our tether ball match and just stared at us.
One of the kids ran and told the teacher on recess duty about the stranger. We’d been warned about strangers since kindergarten, now it was actually happening on our playground.
Suddenly, this stranger grabbed me, put me under his arm like a sack of potatoes and started running off the playground with me towards the open field behind our school.
The other kids started screaming and one of the male teachers started running after him. I was terrified. Beyond belief. I remember my heart beating so fast. I had no idea what was happening. It was, in every sense of the word, an “out of body” experience.
Just as the kidnapper ran onto the field, one of the teachers grabbed my leg and tried to pull me loose. The kidnapper stopped, reached back, and elbowed the teacher in the face. The teacher fell to the ground, disoriented and bloody from the blow.
Meanwhile, the kidnapper paused, pulled me closer to his body, his hand through my legs, and my side tucked into his arm pit. He held my other shoulder down and continued running.
At the end of the field there was a big slope that backed up to a cul-de-sac and a short drive to the freeway. As he headed up the hill, still carrying me like a sack of potatoes under his arm, my weight shifted and I finally was able to look up and see a quick silhouette of his profile. While I couldn’t see his face, I could feel his anger.
From the moment he grabbed me on the playground, time and sound stopped. Everything seemed frozen and confusing. As we headed towards the slope, I suddenly could hear Ms. Goddickson calling my name, along with the other kids screaming and crying.
It was like waking up from a dream and suddenly I could comprehend, the best an 8-year old can, what was happening.
Just as he got to the top of the hill, I could see the kidnapper’s waiting car, the door open, with both rope and a bag on the passengers car seat. I knew from all our “stranger danger” training at school that this was a dangerous situation. I started to punch, kick and scream. I knew I couldn’t get in that car.
Suddenly I heard the police pull up in the cul-de-sac. One police officer ran down the slope, where a tug-of-war ensued until the police office was able to forceably snatch away from the kidnapper.
The other police appeared from both the top and bottom of the hill, wrestled the man to the ground, cuffed him and, just as suddenly as it started, it was over.
As the police officer carried me up the hill, I started to look back at the kidnapper and the police. I’m amazed that he had the foresight to turn my head away from the scuffle with the kidnapper and tell me “Don’t look at his face.” I’m forever thankful that I don’t have a clear image of this mans face burned into my memory.
After they took took the man away, the policeman who had rescued me, stood between me and the kidnappers open car door, brushed me off, gave me a hug, looked me right in the eye and told me it was going to be okay.
Then we got in his police car, headed for the school office where the principal, more police and my teacher, Ms. Goddickson, were waiting for me.
I was asked a few questions and then, remarkably, sent back to class. Back to California history and other school stuff until the bell rang and it was time to go home. Every kid in the class saw what happened to me, but nobody talked about it or asked how I was doing.
I walked home with my friends and when I got home my mom asked, “How was school today? Anything interesting happen?”
Nobody called my parents to tell them that I was almost kidnapped at school that day. Not the school. Not the police. I guess it was 1970-something, so all’s well that ended well. Needless to say, there were some rapidly placed phone calls exchanged once I spilled the day’s events to my shocked mom and dad.
News stories of other kids being kidnapped, make the memory bubble up , but for the most part it has stayed in the past — where it belongs.
However the older I get, the more I read and hear about how these types of stories end, I realize how incredibly lucky I was to have those cops standing at the top of that hill to rescue the quiet, shy boy who just wanted to play tether ball.