GUEST COLUMN: Bad drivers aren’t the only things students should watch for at bus stops

Robert Rinearson

Indiana state lawmakers are currently investigating options on how to better protect our children at school bus stops from drivers who disregard bus stop arms. This concern found interest after three young siblings were killed by a careless driver in Rochester last October.

But if we are to give attention to school bus stops and protecting the children who come to those stops for a way to school, perhaps we should expand the concern for safety beyond that of stop arm violators.

When Wisconsin police revealed that 13-year-old Jayme Closs was targeted by a 21-year-old alleged stalker after watching the young girl get on her school bus, it suddenly raised a consciousness across America that predators continue to exist. What parents should take note of is that school bus stops become fertile locations that are often targeted by sexual deviants. Jake Patterson, the man arrested for Jayme Closs’s kidnapping, as well as for the murder of Jayme’s parents, had no prior connection to the girl and claimed to police that he didn’t even know her name. It was what he saw at the bus stop that triggered his plot.

Just last year in Waterflow, N.M., an 11-year-old-girl was brutally murdered after being abducted from a school bus stop. And here in Fort Wayne, residents were shocked last November when hearing the news that as students gathered to catch their morning bus near Rudisill and Smith Street, a 35-year-old man forcefully dragged a young girl from the bus stop to a shed where he allegedly sexually assaulted her. The man has been charged with five felony counts including rape.

For 17 years I worked school transportation safety and security for a local school district. During those years, I wish that I could claim that such concerns were rare, but I can’t. Over that span there were numerous incidents, including men pulling up to bus stops and exposing themselves to female students from the confines of their car. We dealt with reports of vehicles following students to their bus stops causing fear and anxiety amongt both students and parents. There was an alleged incident of a high school girl who had been thrown into a van, assaulted and then dumped on the street.

Then there was the middle school girl, who as she walked to the bus stop saw a man standing outside of his car. She didn’t think much of it until her friends who were gathered at the stop began screaming when they saw the stranger rush up behind their friend and tackled her to the ground. Bravely, the friends came to her rescue by yelling and kicking at her attacker. The man panicked, jumped into his car and drove away. But that wasn’t the end of the story. After police officials met with the girl at her school it was noticed that on the girl’s sweater was a spot, later determined to be seamen. A DNA sample was taken and a match was later made to an ex-convict who had reportedly escaped to the Mexican border.

So why is a school bus a prime location for the predator? First, it is predictable. By simply hanging out the predator will easily learn the scheduled times for when the bus will pick students up and when they will drop off. With a little observation, it is easy to learn where a student lives, and even learn as to whether adults are present. They will know the route the student takes to reach to stop, and where the least monitored locations are along the path to and from home.

During my years working school transportation security, I worked closely with Fort Wayne police. Whenever we received a concern from parents, students or school officials, I made sure a presence was established at the location. We did everything possible with the evidence we had to learn the potential perpetrator’s identity. We often intervened with students to make them aware of measures that would make their walk and presence at the bus stop safer.

But make no mistake, it must be an on-going priority when it comes to student safety. Parent’s involvement can go a long way in making sure that their children should not have to worry about their travel to school, which in turn can greatly affect their ability to learn. It is an issue that has no place for indifference, and vigilance must be constant.