Schools, parents and police are on alert after a 9-year-old girl reported that a man she didn’t know approached her and offered her candy in Ilchester on Tuesday.
Diane Mumford, principal at Elkridge Elementary School, sent an email to parents on Wednesday morning with information about what transpired at Ilchester, noting that Ilchester Elementary was less than a mile from Elkridge Elementary.
“Yesterday, Jan. 17, after school…[a] 9-year-old girl was walking home from the bus stop in the Ilchester neighborhood [when] a man in a dark-colored car pulled up to the curb,” stated the email.
“The man slid into the passenger seat and asked her if she had seen his missing dog. He then proceeded to offer her candy," said the email. "The student felt uncomfortable and ran to a neighbor's home, where the incident was immediately reported to the police."
The encounter followed a string of recent reports that had increased vigilance among area families. On Jan. 3, a man offered a Rockburn student a ride when the boy was on his way to the bus stop. Police received two other reports of suspicious activity in the Elkridge/Ellicott City area on Jan. 6 in which a man in a silver vehicle (matching the Jan. 3 suspect vehicle description) was reportedly driving suspiciously in the vicinity of children.
Police said they have not found the suspect in the Ilchester incident or from the previous incidents—which occurred in neighborhoods near Rockburn and Marshalee Drive.
To schools, the scenario is a familiar one.
“Unfortunately, incidents like this do occur on a regular basis,” said Patti Caplan, spokeswoman for Howard County Public School System (HCPSS), in an email to Patch. “We have at least two or three reports a year of strangers in cars attempting to pick up students or strangers approaching students.”
On Wednesday, police and school administrators urged parents to remain on the lookout.
“We continue to make area checks but have not yet located or identified the driver,” said Elizabeth Schroen, spokeswoman for the Howard County Police Department (HCPD).
“Parents are asked to remain vigilant and report any suspicious behavior immediately by calling 911," said Schroen, who requested that adults take note of the tag number and direction of travel of any suspicious vehicles to help police in their investigation.
The Elkridge Elementary School principal also provided parents with a call to action: reiterate to students the importance of keeping their distance from strangers.
“Thanks for reminding children not to approach a car with an unknown driver,” wrote Mumford in her email about the Ilchester incident. “The best response is to run away, make noise to attract attention and seek the help of a known adult.”
Safety is part of the curriculum throughout the HCPSS, said Caplan.
“Safety information is reviewed at each grade level but the most attention to the subject is given in the early grades," said Caplan. "We also stress that families need to reinforce this information at home.”
Parents are responding to the call.
“We discuss the incidents as they occur, as a family, and repeatedly go over what to do if someone were to approach them,” said one Elkridge mom who emailed Patch after hearing of the Ilchester incident.
Since the Jan. 3 encounter at the Rockburn bus stop, the Elkridge mother said she has been more cautious.
“I only let my older son play outside if he is in a group of three or more now,” she wrote. “An adult has always been at the bus stop with them, so coming home from school is not an issue.”
Even so, she said, more could be done.
“I still see a lot of kids walking around alone," wrote the mother. "I don’t like the idea of living in fear, but for the time being, this should be a very real concern."
This article was edited to reflect that the Jan. 6 suspect did not try to engage children.