Why I put my kids in abduction prevention camp

10:44 AM, May 8, 2013   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- Inside the Carl Sanders YMCA in Buckhead, the kids and their instructors are sitting in chairs, all facing forward, pretending they are riding in a bumpy car. 

The teacher, playing the role of a child in the backseat, starts poking the 6-year-old driver in the shoulder, whining "Mom, Mom, Mom!" 

The 6 year old looks over her shoulder and the instructor asks, "What just happened?"

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One of the kids in the back answers, "We just wrecked." 

Skits like this make up the week-long camp. But the children will also spend a lot of time poking imaginary eyes, butting invisible heads, blocking potential blows. 

And there is lots of yelling. Yelling, "No!" Yelling, "You're not my Mom!" Commotion is encouraged. 

I enrolled my 8-year-old son Jude and my 6-year-old daughter Iris in the camp run by the national nonprofit radKIDS -- RAD stands for Resisting Aggression Defensively. 

My son has been preoccupied with so-called "bad guys" breaking into our house, "I'm afraid they're going to take me and Iris. Because we'll never see you guys again," he explains. 

The RAD kid instructors say, "We don't scare. We prepare."  

Trained instructors run these camps around the country, where children learn home safety and 911 safety, but they also hammer at noses, free themselves from imaginary arms, and jam their tiny sharp elbows into chests.  

Belise Michel,  Donna Goss, and Maureen Pierce are the instructors. Their job is not easy and for Pierce, it's personal.  

"I was abducted when I was in third grade and I was at a safe park in my small town. Broad daylight. My mom was there and I was with a friend," she said. 

While her mother read a book on a nearby bench in that Kenosha, Wis., park, Maureen decided to pick her mother some flowers.  "I just walked around a corner, bent over and before I know it this man had covered my eyes, covered my mouth and was just dragging me to his car," she said. 

That man, Michael Knipe, drove little Maureen Pierce to a cornfield and raped her.  "I said are you going to kill me? And he said when I'm done with you," Maureen said. 

At one point when Knipe went to his car, Maureen ran another way through the cornfield and got to the road and flagged down a car.

Knipe was caught and convicted and sentenced to 46 years in prison.  But the damage was done to a little girl who returned to third grade, who grew up, got married, and had four boys. 

Then Jorelys Rivera was abducted and murdered by the maintenance man in her Canton apartment complex in December of 2011.  

"I turned on the news and they had found her body," Maureen said. The death of Jorelys, who was one year younger than Maureen when she was abducted, made Pierce realize she needed to do more. So she got certified as an instructor. 

"Had I had some training I would have known, do not get in that car," she said. Michel and Goss and Pierce trained together. 

Also in their class, Elizabeth Smart, the Utah woman abducted from her bedroom at knife point when she was 14 years old.   

Goss says told all of them that, "She wished somebody had given her permission to fight back. She did not know she had the right to hit or strike an adult. And that just resonated with me." 

That's why drills are repeatedly run, and the children urged to react quickly and loudly."You just keep on going until he lets you go!" 

At the end of the week, David Resendez, a trained instructor, poses as the bad guy and it's time to put the training to action.  

The children are remarkable, fighting back, yelling and making a commotion to draw attention. 

It's my son's turn and I'm shocked and impressed and stressed as I watch him fight back against the huge hulk of a man  holding him dangling above the floor. 

Jude gets free and runs away. When it's Iris's turn, she fights equally hard, kicking and screaming and running away.  

It is difficult to watch, but the kids are so proud of themselves. 

After camp, at home, the talk of bad guys goes away.  For Maureen -- what happened to her all those years ago will never make sense. But it led her to help her own children -- and other people's children stay safe. 

"I just feel so connected to them and want to see them become more empowered. They are special and no one has the right to hurt them," she said.

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