Article Comment 

The walk felt ’round the world

 

Lori Pierce and her son, William, have been the focus of an international media blitz ever since William tried to walk to soccer practice last week.

Lori Pierce and her son, William, have been the focus of an international media blitz ever since William tried to walk to soccer practice last week. Photo by: Kelly Tippett

 

The following related files and links are available.

 

Link Link: Lenore Skenazy's Blog

 

 

A Columbus mother and son have inadvertently become international symbols of the loss of American innocence. 

 

This strange whirlwind of international exposure began on a Tuesday afternoon two weeks ago when Lori Pierce found herself considering a request made by her 10-year-old son William. 

 

"He wanted to walk to soccer practice alone," she said. 

 

The Pierces live near 18th Avenue North. William practices soccer at Cook Elementary, which is about a half-mile from the Pierces'' front door. 

 

"I figured, why not?" said Pierce. "I figured it would be a good way for him to learn some independence. He had been out walking with his father the night before and knows how to walk down sidewalks. I had to be at the soccer field in a few minutes anyway, so I gave him my cell phone and sent him on his way." 

 

William made it as far as Seventh Street North, near what used to be Barnhill''s Buffet, when a Columbus Police Department cruiser stopped the boy. The officer was responding to several 911 calls made by people who had seen William walking the sidewalks alone. 

 

The officer drove William the rest of the way to soccer practice, and then went about the business of tracking down Lori Pierce. 

 

He caught up with her at her son''s soccer practice and proceeded to read her the riot act regarding the safety of her child and potential criminal liability she could have faced had anything horrible happened. 

 

"He told me I could have been charged with child endangerment," she said. "I was so shocked." 

 

Although Pierce is quick to point out she never felt anger toward the officer nor the police department, the stern warning given to her by the policeman concerned her deeply. 

 

"I''m sure he said it to scare me, but I just assumed the streets around here were safe," she said. "I e-mailed (CPD Chief Joseph St. John) to find out what the actual facts were and to say one of his officers might have been a little overvigilant. But what I really wanted to know is whether I ought to be concerned with my child''s safety." 

 

St. John immediately got back in touch with Pierce to talk with her about her concerns and about the conduct of the officer in question. 

 

"It is safe for your kids to walk in Columbus," he said. "But we have to remember that something could always happen." 

 

As to the potential for charges to be levied against Pierce, St. John said that is something which was never going to happen. He also points out the officer was responding to multiple 911 calls -- something the CPD has absolutely no control over, but will always respond to, expecting the worst. 

 

"We weren''t going to charge her with anything," said St. John. "We''re just in a no-win situation here. People will get upset if nothing happens and they feel we do too much, but if something actually had happened they''d be upset we hadn''t done enough." 

 

After Pierce''s conversation with St. John she began doing her own research and began an online conversation with Manhattan-based syndicated columnist Lenore Skenazy at Skenazy''s blog, www.freerangekids.wordpress.com. 

 

"Incredible! It''s like the Salem Witch trial era, when people were hallucinating witchcraft. Today we hallucinate horrific danger in the safest of settings. I am so sorry you -- and he -- went through this!" Skenazy wrote in response to Pierce. 

 

From the blog, Pierce''s story was picked up by another media entity -- the Canadian Broadcasting Co. 

 

Pierce was featured as part of the daily news show, "As It Happens." 

 

After the radio program aired all across Canada, Pierce received a call from yet another publication, the Dutch news magazine NRC Handelsclab. 

 

In all the interviews Pierce has given, she has refrained from allowing reporters to name her hometown, out of fear it would cast the CPD in a bad light -- she has been nothing but complimentary of the department. Instead, she has focused upon the new information she has gathered since she and William had their altercation last week. 

 

She said, in an era when most kids would rather sit inside and play video games or watch television, maybe the practical experience gained from going outside outweighs the danger. 

 

"One thing I''ve discovered is the danger of a child being abducted while they walk the streets is small. The real danger lurks within the walls of people''s homes which is where most of the horrible things that happen to kids happen. 

 

"People get scared because they have no control, but you can''t live your life in fear." 

 

William, who says he still wants to walk by himself to soccer practice, is getting really tired of doing interviews. It turns out, while he carries a healthy dose of caution when he walks alone, it isn''t some person lurking in the bushes making him nervous. 

 

"Really, I''m mostly scared of the dogs," he said. 

 

 

 

 

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Reader Comments

Article Comment thad commented at 3/23/2009 3:16:00 PM:

I'm a little surprised that the officer drove William to the soccer practice. Is that appropriate? I teach my kids not to accept rides from strangers - and I don't think wearing a uniform and driving a marked car qualify as an exception to that.

 

Article Comment thad commented at 3/23/2009 3:22:00 PM:

I'm a little surprised that the officer drove William to the soccer practice. Is that appropriate? I teach my kids not to accept rides from strangers - and I don't think wearing a uniform and driving a marked car qualify as an exception to that.

 

Article Comment thad commented at 3/23/2009 3:23:00 PM:

I'm also a little surprised that I couldn't figure out how to avoid an accidental double posting.

 

Article Comment Kimberly commented at 3/23/2009 3:43:00 PM:

I don't feel that any child is safe alone at any time in Columbus. Have you looked at the states sex offenders list lately for the Lowndes County Area?!

 

Article Comment lyn commented at 3/23/2009 3:44:00 PM:

Do you think that the parents of the 14 year old girl in Florida wishes they had not let their daughter walk to school alone. Chances are slim that something bad will happen but still there is a chance that something can happen. I use to walk to school alone but that was many, many years ago and the times have changed. We have to protect our children anyway we can. Now when I see a child that age walking alone I automatically assume the childs parents are to trusting so I guess by the number of phone calls that the police recieved I am not the only one that feels this way.

 

Article Comment Lenore Skenazy commented at 3/23/2009 3:47:00 PM:

Hi! I'm Lenore Skenazy, the lady who runs the freerangekids.com blog. I think it's great your paper is talking about this issue -- when is a parent allowed to express confidence in her town's safety and her son's self-reliance. Lori was doing both, and both turned out to be well placed. Columbus is safe, her boy is certainly capable of a short walk to soccer, and the police department is incredibly responsive. In fact, it's so kid-friendly it reminds me of my home town-- Manhattan! Kudos to all and let's hear it for an old-fashioned childhood! -- Lenore

 

Article Comment thad commented at 3/23/2009 4:07:00 PM:

In response to Kimberly and lyn (even though the article already made this point very well), children are at a much greater risk from pedophiles who are NOT on the sex offender registry, and who commit their crimes at home against family members, than from those who might roam suburban sidewalks during broad daylight.

 

Article Comment Lori commented at 3/23/2009 4:22:00 PM:

Lyn, the reality is that the only thing that has changed since you walked to school alone is that we hear more about bad things that happen. It wasn't the crime rate that changed, but our exposure to the sordid details of those horrible, but rare random crimes to children. And, didn't the experience of walking on your own teach you valuable lessons in learning to navigate the world around you? Should we deny that to our children?

 

Article Comment Lori commented at 3/23/2009 4:27:00 PM:

Lyn, the reality is that the only thing that has changed since you walked to school alone is that we hear more about bad things that happen. It wasn't the crime rate that changed, but our exposure to the sordid details of those horrible, but rare random crimes to children. And, didn't the experience of walking on your own teach you valuable lessons in learning to navigate the world around you? Should we deny that to our children?

 

Article Comment Lori commented at 3/23/2009 4:29:00 PM:

Lyn, the reality is that the only thing that has changed since you walked to school alone is that we hear more about bad things that happen. It wasn't the crime rate that changed, but our exposure to the sordid details of those horrible, but rare random crimes to children. And, didn't the experience of walking on your own teach you valuable lessons in learning to navigate the world around you? Should we deny that to our children?

 

Article Comment Chris commented at 3/23/2009 10:34:00 PM:

Interesting that the people of the neighborhood as well as the rank and file police officer were greatly concerned over the child's welfare while the chief of the po po is sure "All is Well".

 

Article Comment Sylvia Williams commented at 3/24/2009 9:40:00 AM:

An eleven year old girl was taken walking home from her friends house a few blocks away , found days later in a field and had been sexually assaulted. Haliegh 5 years old was taken out of her bed a few weeks ago and is still missing. Adam Walsh was taken while his mother shopped a few steps away. Not to be harsh but as a Mother if you see the news and read the newspaper never would you let your child walk alone. I wish it were not that way but the facts remain it is that way. Sexual predators are always looking for the perfect chance to take the innocence of a child. Hence the word "predator". They prey upon young innocent children. Great job by the Columbus Police Department. Horrible to consider but instead of the Columbus Police noticing your son walking alone it could have been someone that wanted to harm him. As parents we can not afford to be naive when it comes to protecting our children.
S. Williams
Destin Florida

 

Article Comment Ashley commented at 3/24/2009 10:01:00 AM:

Go Lori!! We know you are an awesome parent who knows what is best for your child, and acted appropriately. What a shocker. It is interesting how this has exploded, lots of paranoia out there. We love you guys!!

 

Article Comment I live in the real world... commented at 3/24/2009 12:06:00 PM:

Paranoia for a reason.... sorry everyone in Columbus who is living in this "Columbus is safe" bubble. It's not. Thank you CPD, that's the sort of thing I want the police to do, look after the wellfare of the citizens.

 

Article Comment I live in the real world too!! commented at 3/24/2009 3:01:00 PM:

I don't know what is wrong with everybody! Columbus is not safe because of three letters BGF and countless other reasons!! Hello!! Who lets their child cross a busy intersection ALONE??? I for one am not high-fiving this mother...get real people!!

 

Article Comment Cornell commented at 3/24/2009 3:31:00 PM:

To those who claim to live in the "real world,"

http://tinyurl.com/ce9sbc

 

Article Comment Rachel commented at 3/24/2009 10:19:00 PM:

Lori,
I agree not far to walk, nice day...so why not? Well, not worth the risk of what might just might happen. Personally, I am proud the local police cared enough to make you aware of the possible danger of your decision....doing their job to protect....YES!
Years back probably before you moved here, there were a couple of bad wrecks at that intersection. I have seen many cars run that light through the years. *Drivers won't be expecting a child to be walking along that way...some drivers are not as alert as they should be...like the ones on their cell phones
Perhaps you could walk behind a few steps and share the fun....great idea by the other soccer parent... Many years ago my son wanted to walk home from Franklin so WE did....we stopped in at the Lee Museum on the way home....what a happy memory!

 

Article Comment Lori commented at 3/24/2009 11:39:00 PM:

Not worth the risk? Is getting in your car worth the risk? The risks of riding in a car are much greater than walking Look at all the accidents in just the past week around here. I, for one, still drive despite the risks and I don't believe that the risks to a responsible and trustworthy child walking are that great in Columbus.

Didn't anyone hear the part about "we have taken walks together along that route before"? I don't need a lecture about going out with my children. We do that already. This was one time he wanted to go alone.

At some point every parent has to face the reality of letting your child go out in the world alone. It's always a judgment call about when it's appropriate, but it has to happen sometime. If they aren't properly prepared to face real life all alone, then I haven't done my job as a parent. I try to do that in little steps and this was really a very little step.

Columbus is one of the smaller towns that I have lived in and in comparison, the traffic on 18th Ave is no big deal. One lane each way, nobody passing, and the speed limit is less than 30mph. A sidewalk would be helpful, yes, and Columbus needs more of those, but too dangerous to walk? I don't think so.

 

Article Comment Sharon commented at 3/25/2009 12:59:00 PM:

Great job Columbus Police Dept. When you look at all the children missing on T.V. that is enough for me to be cautious in letting my child walk alone in any street. Yes we want them to be independant, but do we in want to risk their lives at that age in order for them to gain that independance. We live in a world that is getting crazier everyday. Thank God nothing happened to this child.

 

Article Comment rachel commented at 3/25/2009 3:28:00 PM:

Lori,
I don't think it is anyone's intent to lecture you. Yes, I read the entire article before commenting.

Yes, Columbus it is a very nice small town, I too have lived in bigger cities...and walked a good distance to and from my bus stop many moons ago.

Lived here over 2o years and traveled that same route often.

I think too dangerous to walk.

 

Article Comment thad commented at 3/26/2009 9:35:00 AM:

Lots of posters are completely missing the point here. The issue should NOT be whether that particular stretch of road is safe to walk. (There will always be differences of opinion on that issue.)

The issue is whether the decision should be up to each individual parent, or whether the "community" should make that decision for each parent. If something as simple as that is a community decision (not an individual parental decision), where does that end?

 

Article Comment Newton commented at 3/26/2009 11:18:00 AM:

Thad is on point. I don't think there should be any laws/rules regulating where parents may allow their children to walk. It sounds like Lori's son was familiar with the route and was probably aware of the traffic. Lori knows her son and his abilities much better than any of us. On the same token though, I like living in a community where neighbors are looking out for the safety of each other.

 

Article Comment older mom commented at 3/26/2009 11:22:00 AM:

Okay...I can follow...I think by the number of calls to 911 and comments locally on the story our "community" is saying they would to be involved in this decision.


SO I think "community" decision...on this one.

 

Article Comment thad commented at 3/26/2009 2:44:00 PM:

It is not the right of the majority (or, I suspect in this instance, vocal minority) to decide collectively which decisions are individual, and which should be community. Instead, we live in a country that values individual rights, and sets a high standard that must be met before they are taken away.

A few redneck neighbors calling 911 does NOT = that standard.

 

Article Comment older mom commented at 3/26/2009 3:50:00 PM:

Thad,

Your comment about redneck neighbors is labeling and very inappropriate.

Columbus is a caring community, I am sure some have been vocal of out of concern.

 

Article Comment Robin commented at 3/27/2009 12:25:00 AM:

Lori, You did the right thing. It is tragic that children cannot go outdoors anymore. The fact that posters quote three isolated instances that occurred in three completely different communities over a 25 year period is proof that the probability of a random child abduction is miniscule. If situations were more prevalent, the statistics quoted would be "dozens" or "hundreds" and would actually refer to your own community.

Here's a question: if neighbors were so worried about your son, why didn't any of them actually GO OUTSIDE AND TALK TO HIM? Ask him if he was lost, or whatever. How sad that your neighbors who claim to care are unwilling to talk to a child.

Yes you are right, most of the harm done to young children is perpetrated upon them by people that they trust--parents, older relatives, neighbors, pastors, teachers. So, why not prohibit children from being at home, at school, at neighbors houses, or in church? That ought to solve the problem.

I hope your son was able to concentrate on his ball practice. What a way to become a celebrity.

 

Article Comment Greg commented at 3/27/2009 1:18:00 AM:

I'm hoping with so many people calling 911 for a child walking down the street during the day that the CPD will start getting 911 calls for the punks you see walking the streets after dark and in the late hours of the night. Some of these kids look very young too. Does Columbus have a curfew? If not, we sure need one.

 

Article Comment A commented at 4/24/2009 10:53:00 AM:

To the paranoid people posting, please study actual crime statistics, who's most likely to sexually assault or kidnap children (hint : it's not strangers, it's people who know the children by an OVERWHELMING amount) and stop trying to ruin society because you neglect your children and can't properly take care of them.

Parenting is difficult, it involves using actual effort to teach kids how to make smart decisions, it doesn't involve calling the police when you see a child walking to sports practice.

Good job letting your kid walk alone, kids need the exercise and need to not be afraid of everything, including their neighbourhood.

 

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