Federal Way girl rewarded for dodging dangerous stranger
The Youth Education & Safety Fair was organized by the Valley Communications Center in conjunction with the King County Sheriff’s Office and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Keeping kids safe
The first Youth Education & Safety Fair runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Renton Community Center, 1715 S.E. Renton-Maple Valley Highway. Admission is free. There will be face-painting, interactive displays and games for the kids, and safety tips and age-appropriate conversation starters for parents.
Fear was written all over Isabel Carpenter’s tear-streaked face when she walked through her front door one afternoon in February.
Her mother, Connie, dialed 911 and passed the phone to the 10-year-old. Isabel told the woman on the other end of the line about the man in a white van who had tried to lure her into his vehicle as she walked the four blocks home from her elementary school.
On Saturday afternoon, Isabel will be presented with the King County 9-1-1 Kid Hero Award, which is given each year by the King County Enhanced 9-1-1 Program Office to a child who demonstrates quick thinking in an emergency and provides valuable information to 911 dispatchers.
“I was so impressed by her resolve and I could tell somebody along the way had educated her — and she’d listened to that,” said Lorrie Broming, the 16-year veteran 911 dispatcher at Valley Communications Center in Kent who answered Isabel’s call and nominated the girl for the award. “She was very articulate, she stayed calm and she remembered a great amount of detail.”
Isabel and Broming will meet for the first time at the award ceremony, which is taking place during the first Youth Education & Safety Fair at the Renton Community Center.
The fair, organized by the Valley Communications Center in conjunction with the King County Sheriff’s Office and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound, is a local effort to promote the “Take 25” annual campaign launched in 2007 by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
“Take 25” encourages parents, guardians and teachers to take 25 minutes to talk to their kids about the potential dangers children face and safety concepts that can help protect them.
“Don’t be embarrassed or shy. Just be open with your kids. I don’t think it even takes 25 minutes, just random conversations here and there,” Isabel’s mom, Connie Carpenter, advised.
Carpenter and her husband, Charles, have had a series of talks with Isabel and her 14-year-old sister, Lili, since they were little. And they’ve started having those same talks with their 3-year-old son, Caylum.
Additional conversations were sparked after news broke this month that three young women, abducted and held captive for more than a decade, had been found alive in Cleveland, Ohio.
“Most definitely talk to your children. Even if you don’t think they’re listening, they are,” Charles said.
Feb. 21 started out routinely enough. As usual, Isabel got a ride to Brigadoon Elementary School with her best friend’s mother, who lives two doors from the Carpenter home on a Federal Way cul-de-sac.
Isabel had to stay inside at recess to finish a homework assignment. Around lunchtime, her friend Heather became ill and was sent home early.
Isabel attended an after-school program to get help with her math. When it was over, her teacher called Isabel’s mother to let her know that because Heather was sick, Heather’s mom wouldn’t be there to drive Isabel home. Was it OK to let Isabel walk, her teacher asked.
“It’s four blocks and she’s a fifth-grader, so I didn’t think much about it,” Connie said. “I said ‘yes, just send her walking,’ ” and she sent Lili, who had already arrived home from middle school, out to meet Isabel.
Isabel was about halfway home when a white Ford Econoline van pulled up beside her and a man in bluejeans and a white T-shirt got out.
“I was on the sidewalk and it stopped right next to me,” Isabel said.
As the man approached, one arm hidden behind his back, Isabel ran to the nearest house where she saw a car parked in the driveway.
“He said, ‘Hey, I got something for you, come here.’ He said, ‘I’m not a bad guy. I’m not going to hurt you,’ ” Isabel recalled. “I didn’t say anything. I kept my mouth shut.”
She pounded on the front door with her fist and an old man opened the main door but refused to unlock the glassed outer door. She screamed: “I need to call my mom!” and kept pounding, even after the man inside cupped his ear, tapped his watch and walked out of her view.
The strange man followed her halfway across the lawn before he finally got back into his van, made a U-turn in the street and sped off back toward the elementary school.
As soon as the van took off, Isabel started running. She didn’t even see her sister until Lili held out her arms to stop her. The girls hugged as Isabel tearfully explained what had just happened.
“They were still hugging and crying when they got to the door,” said Connie, who first saw her children through the front window and noticed the terror on Isabel’s face. “She was obviously petrified.”
As Isabel spoke with Broming, the 911 dispatcher, Connie used another phone to call her husband at work.
“There was a good deal of panic and freak out in her voice. My whole world just stopped,” he said. “It usually takes me 40 minutes to drive home and I swear I did it in 20.”
Federal Way police searched the neighborhood but couldn’t find the white van.
Still, Isabel’s parents are immensely proud of the way she reacted. In the recorded 911 call, Broming can be heard complimenting Isabel for her bravery and the good job she did in a frightening situation.
Broming’s boss, Lora Ueland, said what happened in Cleveland “is a stark and sobering example” of why it’s so important to teach children to be aware of their surroundings and trust their instincts.
“Not only did she have the presence of mind that this was not a good situation, but she also remembered details that she could relay to the officers,” Ueland, the executive director of Valley Communications Center, said of Isabel.
“She just did everything right. She did not allow herself to be a victim.”
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org