How The Community Copes After The Deaths Of Two Girls
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
We'll explore how the community is coping with the deaths of 14-year-old Amber Dubois and 17-year-old Chelsea King.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): Community members gathered again last night in San Diego's North County to mark another tragic loss. They remembered 14-year-old Amber Dubois. Amber's father, Maurice, addressed the crowd:
MAURICE DUBOIS (Father): Please take a minute for every tear you have ever shed for Amber, for Chelsea, and for any other child who has suffered at the hands of these predators, and come back tomorrow and take as just as many minutes of action in our fight to protect our children.
CAVANAUGH: After being reported missing from her Escondido home over a year ago, Amber's remains were found last weekend on the Pala Indian Reservation. It was the second grim discovery made in San Diego County in less than a week. The body of 17-year-old Chelsea King was found near Lake Hodges just last Tuesday. There are many conversations going on in our community about these twin tragedies. Some of those conversations are about crime and punishment, some are about politics. But this morning, we'd like to talk about the impact of these deaths on our families, our schools and our children. How do we talk about these terrible events without scaring kids? And, how do schools cope with the aftermath of grief and worry among students? I’d like to introduce my guests. First of all, Marc Klaas is here. He established the KlaasKids Foundation in 1994 as a resource for protecting children. Marc’s 12-year-old daughter, Polly, was kidnapped from her home and murdered in 1993. And, Marc, I want to thank you so much for joining us this morning.
MARC KLAAS (Founder, KlaasKids Foundation): Thank you for having me, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: David Peters is a marriage and family psychotherapist here in San Diego. David, welcome back to These Days.
DAVID PETERS (Psychotherapist): Good to be with you again, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: Traci Barker-Ball is teacher and crisis counselor at Poway High School. She knew Chelsea King quite well. And, Traci, thank you for being here.
TRACI BARKER-BALL (Crisis Counselor, Poway High School): My pleasure.
CAVANAUGH: Steve Williams is director of Pacific Coast RAD and radKIDS. They are self-defense programs. He’s a former SDSU police captain. And, Steve, thanks for joining us.
STEVE WILLIAMS (Director, Pacific Coast RAD and radKIDS): Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And we’d like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. How are you and your family dealing with the tragic deaths of Amber Dubois and Chelsea King? Are you talking with your kids? Are they asking you questions? Give us a call, 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. David, what kinds of emotions are people going through over these deaths? What are we seeing? What are we hearing?
PETERS: Well, what we see kind of varies in intensity depending upon the proximity to the crime and the grieving of the King family. But, certainly, San Diego as a whole and the Poway area are experiencing extraordinary grief, anger, some sense of terror as they relive in their minds what might’ve happened. We tend, when we watch these things on television, to picture the horror that has taken place and feel that urgency, the need to escape or the need to rescue, and these all subject us to some degree of trauma, some degree of pain that can last, and that’s something that has to be watched out for and monitored carefully among all of us.
CAVANAUGH: And, David, most people in San Diego County, as you point out, did not know either of these victims personally. So what is it about the cases that touch us so deeply?
PETERS: Well, we tend to project ourselves into the lives of others when we watch a story. This is essentially what makes a good movie worth watching. We project ourselves into it. And for good or for bad in today’s television age, when a tragedy happens we project ourself into the story. The more we can relate to the people in the story, the more we feel like they do. If it’s someone on the other side of the planet who lives in a very different culture than ours in circumstances that we can’t imagine, it’s much more difficult for us to relate. But when it’s in our hometown, when they’re people who look like us, who have the same language as us or they have kids at the same age we have, the more we have in common with them, the more we experience the terror, the sadness, the loss with them.
CAVANAUGH: Marc Klaas, your experience, of course, in this is firsthand with, as I mentioned, the kidnapping and the death of your daughter, Polly. I wonder if you would share with us what emotions surface for you when you hear news like this, what happened in San Diego County over the past week?
KLAAS: Oh, it breaks my heart. I mean, just like – and I agree with absolutely everything that’s been said thus far. But I do feel it, I guess, more closely since I’ve experienced the same thing, and our foundation has worked so hard to correct these problems and to protect children over the years that once one is kidnapped and/or found dead, I feel a personal sense of defeat that all of the work that we’ve done has really gone for naught because it’s about protecting the individual child and in a variety of ways, by working on criminal justice legislation, by working on prevention programs and by taking it to the kitchen table where there can be a dialogue among the families themselves to protect against these kinds of things. And it feels like a personal failure to me.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Marc, I know that you have done so much work in going to communities and meeting with families who’ve suffered tragedies like this. What kind of advice do you offer to communities that have suffered from the loss of missing teenagers and with these terrible murders that we find happen when bodies are discovered and so forth? What do you hear from the communities and what advice do you offer?
KLAAS: Well, I believe that the best thing that can happen really is to convene some kind of a town hall meeting and bring all of the players in, bring the superintendent of schools, bring the police chief, bring the various players in the community and talk about the things that are being done to correct problems that existed or to convey to the community that what happened certainly won’t happen again. And I think you need that sense of assurance, particularly in the aftermath of one of these terrible personal tragedies like this.
CAVANAUGH: Outside of the immediate members of the family concerned, Marc, who do you think is hurt most by these deaths?
KLAAS: I – Well, you know, it’s like skipping a rock across a lake. The circles start converging and you first touch the family members and then you touch the friends, then you touch the peripheral contacts and, ultimately the entire community gets touched by this, particularly if it’s a high profile kind of a situation. We become personally invested and we feel like we know the victims when, in fact, we probably have never met them. But we have the feelings of fear. We have the concerns for our own children. And I think it really is across the board. I suspect it probably, and I’m not a professional, but I suspect it probably – those that are touched most are the kids and the parents of the kids for very similar reasons, for the fear of the unknown and the possibility that if this child has been victimized that potentially any child could be victimized.
CAVANAUGH: We’re talking about the aftermath to the community of the deaths of Amber Dubois and Chelsea King, and we’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. I’d like to bring in a teacher at Poway High School who is also a crisis counselor, and who knew Chelsea King. Traci Barker-Ball is on the line with us. And I wonder, Traci, how are students in Poway – how are the students dealing with this?
BARKER-BALL: You know, it’s – The best way is to say it’s been an emotional rollercoaster. You know, it started out with, at the beginning of the week last week, with all the hope that she would still be found and especially since somebody had been arrested. And then Tuesday once the news hit, of course it was just so devastating. And then there was a vigil that night and that kind of calmed a little bit but Wednesday and Thursday, students – I mean, we had hundreds of kids who just couldn’t be in class. You know, they would just sit and say I can’t concentrate, why would this happen, and, you know, all – all aspects of the emotions where there’s anger, there’s frustration, there’s confusion, there’s sadness, there’s depression, everything that you would associate with grief. Definitely still the denial that, you know, it would – and the shock that it would happen. And then yesterday things kind of changed. I think over the weekend people got to the physical exhaustion and it was like, okay, what do I do next? And then with the news of Amber over the weekend, you know, kids are just like they don’t know what to think. You know, they’re getting irritated and they’re not sure why. They – You know, the thing that bothers me the most is their sense of security is gone. You know, I’ve had e-mails from parents saying my 17-year-old wants to bring a sleeping bag and sleep on the floor in my room because she doesn’t feel safe anymore, or you know, teens sleeping with nightlights or security blankets that they haven’t done for years. So it’s definitely about Chelsea and it’s definitely about Amber but it’s also about themselves where they’re just not sure what to do and how to feel.
CAVANAUGH: What kinds of counseling services are available to students who are going through this kind of reaction?
BARKER-BALL: Well, you know, what we’ve had on campus is our district has a crisis team and so they were available last week with a lot of counselors, and then it got to the point where kids were just kind of feeling numb. So right now we’re just collecting resources. We have a lot of people in the community that are willing to help, you know, with outside counseling if they need it. We still have counselors on campus as well. And then we’re just kind of telling teachers and parents, you know, you know your kids best. Let us know when they need help. We also have some people that are starting to work on offering some defense classes, you know, for safety free and so that can give them a different mindset to go in. And we’re – This is the third student we’ve lost this year, and so our school is just really numb and it’s hard to know what to do for the students.
CAVANAUGH: I just want to bring in Steve Williams now, since you mentioned classes for self defense. Steve Williams is a former SDSU police captain who’s now director of Pacific Coast RAD and radKIDS, which are self defense programs. Steve, do you – you must find that more people seek out the services of RAD after a very highly publicized twin tragedy like this.
WILLIAMS: Well, since I retired I’ve been doing RAD and radKIDS full time, my small business that I do, and I go to a variety of groups in San Diego County including Girl Scout groups, schools, after school programs, churches, all of which want some safety education training for their children. And that’s what radKIDS does, it provides educational opportunities for parents and children about awareness, about personal safety strategies. It instills confidence in themselves about what they can do if something happens. And we’re a pro-active prevention program and we want to reduce the possibility of adverse physical control or harm on our children.
CAVANAUGH: David Peters, I’m wondering, is that one way to perhaps take control of these emotions of anxiety, to try to do something to build up self confidence?
PETERS: You’re exactly right, Maureen. Programs like the radKIDS program can not only prevent a child or a teen from being accosted in the future but it can do well to help reduce trauma experienced today by the news. When we feel empowered, when we feel like there’s something I can do about it, our level of anxiety drops, our sense of helplessness and hopelessness drops. And so anything parents can do to help teens feel like, okay, what will my response be, that’ll help minimize the trauma that they’re experiencing today.
CAVANAUGH: There are so many people who want to join our conversation. We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You can post your comments online at KPBS.org/thesedays. Let’s hear from Abby, who’s calling us from UTC. Good morning, Abby, and welcome to These Days.
ABBY (Caller, University Towne Center): Hi. Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: Yes. How can – What is your comment?
ABBY: My comment is in light – in the wake of what happened with Chelsea King and now we find out about Amber Dubois, I’m a parent, I have a 14-year-old daughter who’s going to high school. The news was devastating. We feel helpless. I don’t know what to do, what else we can do as parents. Our kids, you know, they’re not free to go out and do whatever they want. They’re monitored. They’re shuttled everywhere. And I don’t know if it’s an issue of, you know, the legal system that is not addressing this problem adequately but I think we’re maxed out as parents and we dealt – it was devastating, the grieving process that I watched my daughter go through. She attends a different high school. Her and her friends went through the whole process. And I don’t know what the proper response is but letting them out after six years is not enough when we know the recidivism rate is high among that population.
CAVANAUGH: Abby, let me take your call and direct it, first of all, to Marc Klaas because I know you must have heard this reaction before. So, Marc, what can you tell Abby?
KLAAS: Well, I would tell Abby without getting into the intricacies of the criminal justice system…
KLAAS: …because I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about here today, that, first of all, we can’t completely and totally protect our children. There are things that we can do to minimize the potential for victimization and I think that those are the issues that need to be addressed here. I think that radKIDS is a wonderful program for all of the reasons that have been stated but it’s obviously not a silver bullet that’s going to cure all of the problems. And I think what we need to do, as I had mentioned the kitchen table earlier, is we need to sit down with our kids and talk to them on a regular basis about ways to protect themselves. Obviously, stranger danger is a concept that doesn’t really resonate anymore because we know that the vast majority of victimizations are as a result of – are victimizations by people that we either know well or are acquaintances, so I think what we need to do is give our children a variety of rules that will enable them to make good choices in life. I think the first rule is that, particularly for smaller kids, they should always check with their parents first. So if they’re going to go someplace, their parents should know where they’re going. They should always double up. They should use the buddy system. There is definitely strength in numbers. I think the one consistent element of all of these cases is that these victims were isolated. They were by themselves. We have to tell our kids that if something feels bad, if they have a gut instinct that something is wrong, that it probably is wrong and they should put distance between themselves and whatever it is that’s making them feel bad. And that they can go to strangers to help them out of a difficult situation. The vast majority of people, men, women and children, would do anything they could to protect a child that feels victimized or that feels that they are in some kind of danger. So I would counsel kids to go up to any woman and ask them for help, or any emergency officer and any emergency personnel in uniform. And the vast majority of men would help but, unfortunately, men tend to be the problem.
KLAAS: And then I would finally say that every child over ten years old should have a cell phone for a couple of reasons. Number one, it gives you the security of 24/7 contact. And number two, now, in this day and age, all cell phones are equipped with GPS chips so if, in fact, the child does go missing and the child has their telephone with them, there is an ability to at least track the phone and know where that is.
CAVANAUGH: That’s Marc Klaas. And we have to take a short break. When we return, we’ll continue with our panel, talking about the community’s reaction to the twin tragedies of the deaths of Amber Dubois and Chelsea King. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. We’re talking about the aftermath in our community of the deaths of Amber Dubois and Chelsea King, and we’re taking your calls. There – We really have a panel of guests here. Marc Klaas, who has established the KlaasKids Foundation in 1994, David Peters, a marriage and family psychotherapist here in San Diego, Steve Williams is director of Pacific Coast RAD and radKIDS self defense programs, and Traci Barker-Ball is a teacher and crisis counselor at Poway High School. We’re taking your calls, as I said, 1-888-895-5727. Traci, you knew Chelsea King, as I’m sure a lot of other teachers and administrators did in Poway. How are you all coping with this loss?
BARKER-BALL: You know, it’s – I don’t know, at this point I think we’re just numb. What we’re trying to do is concentrate on the positive of who Chelsea was. And we have this big memorial service on Saturday so, of course, a lot of our energy is going into that. For the most part, we just keep preaching to our kids that you have to take care of yourself, and so we’re trying to do the same. A lot of people have said that we – a lot of people have gotten in so much sleep over the weekend, you know, we’re just trying to do the mundane physical things and emotionally give each other hugs. You know, I think I’ve had more hugs and seen more people hug in the last week and, you know, one of the cool things about at least Chelsea—I don’t, can’t, speak for Escondido—but with Chelsea is, it’s brought such a community together and we have kids hugging and talking to people that they had never even talked to before. So there’s a lot of cool things going on and that’s what we’re trying to concentrate on to get through it.
CAVANAUGH: David, I wonder, what is the difference between the way adults might handle this kind of a situation and the way children do?
PETERS: Well, children can be more irrational in their response than adults and we have to remember this because our children are watching the television and if they watch this every day for a week or two, they experience that it’s still going on right now. In one sense they know that it happened in the past but emotionally, much more than we do, they experience retraumatization. So it’s important if you have young kids in the home, turn that television off. Don’t expose them to something they don’t need to be exposed to. Then again, for adults also, particularly if you’re working on the school campus, you are experiencing it over and over again and every time we, as adults, hear the story in the news, to a degree, we re-experience it so there’s a lot in common.
CAVANAUGH: We are taking calls, 1-888-895-5727. I’m curious to hear if people have changed their routines or limited what their children can and can’t do alone. If you would tell us about that, we’d appreciate it. That’s 1-888-895-5727. And let’s go to a phone call right now. Linda is calling us from Poway. Good morning, Linda. Welcome to These Days.
LINDA (Caller, Poway): Hi.
LINDA: My daughter is a Poway High School student and we knew the King family slightly. I’ve written a small article for the local Poway Chieftain that will be published this week regarding what you’re talking about today, empowering our children to be able to learn some stranger danger class courses maybe in the health classes already existing in the high school, learn some basic self defense classes, again through the PE classes already in the high school, to utilize our resources, especially the resources in the City of Poway, of which we have so many, to be able to offer these classes to other teens, children, adults, anybody who wants them at a nominal cost. We’re all vulnerable, especially our teens that are bridging the gap from child to adult. They’re wanting to drive, they’re going out, they’re experiencing some things that they aren’t doing with their parents and these are skills for a lifetime.
LINDA: They’re skills they can go to college with, they’re skills they can use in your whole life. And I think as a community it’s something we can do right now.
CAVANAUGH: Linda, let me just ask you a question. I must say you sound pretty exhausted. Has this taken a real emotional toll on you?
LINDA: Terrible. It’s just a terrible, terrible tragedy. You can’t even wrap your mind around how horrible it must be for that mother. It’s just inimaginable (sic) that it takes so much to raise a child, so much love, so much effort, so much attention. We do so much to make sure our kids are doing well on so many levels and then to have it gone in a – in a moment. It’s just inconceivable.
CAVANAUGH: Linda, thank you very much for the phone call. Let’s take another call. Greg is calling from Oceanside. Good morning, Greg, and welcome to These Days.
GREG (Caller, Oceanside): Good morning. I – My prayers and condolences go out to everybody involved in this. Our family was involved in the Stephanie Crowe murder trial in – starting, actually, the first incident in 1997 when my daughter was stalked by Richard Tuite and actually had a violent encounter where he tried to break in and get at my daughter but my wife was able to stop it. This whole incident now with King and Amber Dubois has triggered nightmares for my daughter now many years later and it’s one of these things where people – I don’t know if they realize how these things stick with you for a very long period of time. And this Richard Tuite is probably going to be released in the near future and be back out on the street.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I have to thank you, Greg. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. Marc Klaas, I wonder, how – do you have to like begin therapy over again sometimes when you hear about – I don’t mean you in particular but if you would share your own personal experience, these incidents, when they come up, do they just trigger everything all over again?
KLAAS: I try to remove myself from the immediacy of these situations. Sometimes I can do that successfully and sometimes I can’t. What I can tell you is that in the aftermath of my own daughter’s tragedy it was almost impossible to contain the explosion of my broken heart for quite a number of years. I really didn’t even want to go on with life, and I did take advantage of the counseling that was provided by the State of California and utilized psychological services. Once I found somebody that really worked for me, I utilized his services for more than a decade. First I would do it a couple of times a week, then weekly, then bi-weekly, then monthly until finally, after about ten years, I was able to go to him and thank him for all of his wonderful work and tell him that I didn’t require his services any longer, and have been back a few times since.
KLAAS: But recovering from one of these tragedies, particularly for those that are – that knew the victim or are family members of the victim, is a very dicey ordeal and oftentimes those people don’t recover. Oftentimes, they get lost in depression or they get lost in some kind of substance abuse and, again, it’s just ruined lives piled upon ruined lives upon ruined lives.
CAVANAUGH: David Peters, I’m wondering, how do people, even in the community who didn’t know these victims, how do you deal with the anger that surfaces during a time like this?
PETERS: I think it’s important to remember that our anger often is a response to our fear and our sadness. Anger we call a secondary emotion. It feels more powerful than terror or fear, and anger can get us in a lot of trouble at a time like this where the pain is high and the anger gets up, we can be very short tempered. People can have very little patience for others in our way and we can be looking for someone to blame because the body wants to, the nervous system wants to find where the source of the problem is and attack it. And so monitoring the anger is really, really important and remembering underneath the anger is pain, fear, a sense of helplessness. Let me talk about that. If you talk about that, the anger doesn’t get out of control.
CAVANAUGH: Traci, I’m wondering, do you hear a lot of anger in the students that you’ve been counseling?
BARKER-BALL: You know, yes, and it’s coming out in weird ways where they’re not even necessarily associating it with this but they just might be irritated with something else. Also hearing a lot of comments like, well, I’m not a violent person but I really want him to… And, you know, and fill in the blank where these, you know, these kids are just feeling – you know, and we – several people have said that, that they’re feeling very helpless and part of the anger is somebody took away this beautiful person that was their friend and took away the security. So definitely a lot of anger.
CAVANAUGH: And, Steve, I don’t want to leave this subject of anger without going back to the program that you deal with, the radKIDS program. I guess working things out sometimes physically or learning how to say no with force can also be part of healing through that anger.
WILLIAMS: Absolutely. We have many women in the RAD program that come in as survivors and they use this as part of their healing, to get back something that they had lost. And with the physical skills and hitting bags and feeling encouraged and confident about their ability to identify vulnerable locations, and children as well, identify vulnerable locations and use their personal weapons to escape violence, so both of the programs have physical skill development portions of them that give children and women the opportunity to escape violence.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s take some more calls. Our phone lines, I’m told, are busy right now. You can keep trying to get through at 1-888-895-5727 or go online and post your comment at KPBS.org/thesedays. Let’s hear from Ron in El Cajon. Good morning, Ron. Welcome to These Days.
RON (Caller, El Cajon): Good morning. Thank you for taking my call. And, first, I just want to praise you for going in this direction of stressing the education for personal safety. There’s so many resources out there and the RAD classes are really wonderful. Gavin de Becker wrote a wonderful book, “The Gift of Fear,” that’s just full of information that helps you protect yourself from predators. And that would be a wonderful place to start. He also has a website that just has reams of information, all kinds of questions, and a lot of it is age appropriate kind of information that people may benefit from. And if you could follow up with more programs on this topic of education, I think that would be great because prevention is what saves lives. And it’s – the information, Gavin de Becker says to protect yourself from a predator, you have to be just a little bit smarter than they are.
RON: But we – you know, I just praise what you’re doing.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you.
RON: These things have touched me indirectly and I really feel for the people that are going through this.
CAVANAUGH: Ron, thank you so much for the phone call and thank you for your kind comments. I appreciate it. Let’s take another call. Serita is calling from Carmel Valley. Good morning, Serita. Welcome to These Days.
SERITA (Caller, Carmel Valley): Good morning. Thank you. Yeah, my question is I just want to know what we, as parents, can do. I’m a parent in Carmel Valley. I didn’t know either of the victims but I think, like myself and a lot of other parents in this community, we are all deeply concerned. And I’m just wondering what can we do as parents to either some kind of political activism, making laws tougher, you know, making groups so that we can help prevent some of this, you know, abusers from being out on the street. A friend of mine tried to start a website that would require microchips for sex offenders…
SERITA: …and his life was like threatened and his family was threatened, and he had to quickly abandon that. And I’m just wondering like what can we, as parents, do as a legal way of some kind of political activism to make laws tougher, to sort of take advantage of this, you know, huge momentum of community outcry and make an actual change so that…
CAVANAUGH: Serita, thank you. We’ve – I have your question and thank you so much for your phone call. I want to direct this to Marc Klaas because – and I want to redirect the question a little bit because we are not talking about politics and laws during this program. But I know a lot of people who are involved in the loss of a child by murder get involved in politics and changing laws and strengthening laws. I wonder what that does emotionally to help you over the crisis, over the tragedy. Did you find that that had a healing effect for you, Marc?
KLAAS: Oh, absolutely, it’s extremely therapeutic because, you know, our kids give value to their lives but only we, as the parents really, can give value to their deaths. And we try to ensure that their death meant more than just another piece of a pie chart or another data point. So what we do oftentimes, and certainly this is what’s motivated me, is we try to find ways to ensure that the loopholes that existed that allowed our children to become victims of violent crime can be closed in their memories and hopefully to build a legacy in their names that will be protective of children for years to come. And by doing this kind of work, it’s helped me and it’s helped my family immensely to the point where we feel that we’ve done a good job and we can move forward with lives and appreciate the beautiful things that life has to offer.
CAVANAUGH: Traci Barker-Ball, I know that you have to leave us soon. You are a counselor at Poway High. And I want to ask you, through all the exhaustion that you’ve been talking about and all the grief, have you been able to look forward a little bit to see how you might tailor your counseling or other programs in order to address this tragedy in the long term?
BARKER-BALL: Yes, but I don’t have any concrete answers.
BARKER-BALL: You know, right now we’re just doing the old take it one day at a time, trying to get a feel for what the kids’ needs are. You know, so many kids, when they get in overload, they just have to kind of forget and not that Chelsea will be forgotten or this whole incident will ever be forgotten but right now what we’re trying to do is get kids back on as normal a schedule as possible and then kind of see where the needs are. So, you know, with the memorial this week, the talk on campus this week is all about, okay, you know, let’s remember the good things about Chelsea. And then I think next week we start working on what the next healing process is.
CAVANAUGH: And tell us just briefly, what is the memorial, tell us again about that.
BARKER-BALL: They’re having a memorial in our stadium on Saturday at two o’clock. And so what it is, is a celebration of life. It’s all about who Chelsea was and what she represented. And it’s also a thank you to the community for the overwhelming support, everything from people who passed out fliers or went on search and rescue or who intensified their search even after Chelsea was found because knowing what it felt like that now they were looking for Amber. So it’s the family’s way of saying, you know what, you shared in this part so now let’s share in the celebration.
CAVANAUGH: Traci, thank you so much.
BARKER-BALL: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with Traci Barker-Ball, teacher and crisis counselor at Poway High School. The rest of our panel remains and we will continue our conversation and take your calls right after a short break. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. We’re talking about how the San Diego community is reacting to the deaths of Chelsea King and Amber Dubois and asking our callers whether or not they’ve changed their routines, how their family is reacting, what they’re telling their children, and what their children are asking. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. We’re also taking your comments online at KPBS.org/thesedays. My guests are Marc Klaas, David Peters and Steve Williams. And I want to go right to the phones and take some phone calls. Yahiha (sp) is calling from Spring Valley and welcome to These Days.
YAHIHA (Caller, Spring Valley): Yes, how you doing this morning? Thanks for taking my call.
YAHIHA: I think that we’re dealing with a lot of symptoms here rather than dealing with the root cause of the problem. You know, it’s such a tragedy that these young girls’ death has occurred at this time in the way that they did. And I think that, you know, while all of the suggestions that we come up with, you know, such as self defense, such as legislation to give sex offenders a longer jailhouse sentence there is and these kinds of things, but we have to remember that we live in a very, very immoral environment. I don’t think that, you know, the people who commit these crimes was born like that, you know, by nature. I think that the influences – you know, you have so much sex and drugs and crime that has been put before our children and they’ve even – and, you know, the heroes, the role models that we follow are lawbreakers, you know, they – and a lot of our young people are very – you know, it makes a real impression on the psyche of our young people and it affects them in a whole lot of different ways. Unfortunately, they express it in violent ways such as what has happened here.
CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for your phone call. I want to take some of your comments and refer back to David Peters. A lot of people think that there are – this problem is a real – kids are under real, real, real threat in our society but as tragic as the instances are of Amber and Chelsea, it’s important not to over react, isn’t it, David?
PETERS: Yes, it is important not to overreact. And in the midst of an event like this, many people are overreacting and retraumatizing themselves or their kids. And I think it’s important for all of us to remember that while we’re in this time of terrible grief, it’s not going to be the right thing to instill greater fear among all of us. We’ve had several callers talk about their fear, they don’t know what to do, they don’t know if they should let their kids out. What we have as a fact is violent crime has been dropping in this country at a steady rate for over 20 years. Violent crime in San Diego County is at a 25 year low. We are as safe in our neighborhoods today as we were in the 1970s, and that’s important to remember because when we hear story after story, we experience this is out of control. The enemy is taking over. There’s violent predators everywhere. And the fact is that there’s not. We hear around the country every story of a child who’s accosted, who’s raped or who is killed. We don’t hear about the many, many cases where a child avoided being hurt, where a child knew a dangerous situation and escaped it. There’s countless instances of that. Those don’t make the news. What makes the news are those touching tragic stories and we can get a warped perspective in our society. And so when dealing with your teens, it’s important, don’t instill fear in them that it’s dangerous to walk out the door. If you have fear, get them trained with something like the RAD program so they can feel empowered. Talk practically about ways in which they can keep themselves safe. But let them know that the world hasn’t become a wildly dangerous place compared to a year ago or five years ago. For our teens to experience finding the body of Chelsea King and then right after that Amber Dubois, yeah, this is all in the same community, they’re experiencing a one-two punch here as if there’s an onslaught of violence against them. But it’s just not the case and we have to look realistically at the situation, take practical steps to protect ourselves, look at laws that can be changed, but don’t share with your kids or share with each other a sense that the situation is getting out of control. The fact is, over the years of time, the situation has been getting better.
CAVANAUGH: Marc, it’s such a fine line between being cautious and making – and urging your children to be cautious and follow rules and regulations and going overboard and making everybody terrified.
KLAAS: Sure. And I couldn’t agree more with what David just said. It can’t be a fear-based education. One of the problems, though, that exists and not just in response to this horrible situation that’s going on down in San Diego now but in general, is that parents refuse to engage their children in these conversations because of their own fears and their own superstitions that if they leave well enough alone or if they’ve talked to their kids about stranger danger, then they’re not inviting some kind of a horrible tragedy upon their own family when, in fact, what they need to do is understand that kids are in the time of learning, that they’re hungry for information, and the more information you can impart upon them about protecting themselves, not in a fear-based way but in a realistic way, the better off those kids will be, the better choices they will make, and ultimately the safer all of us will be.
CAVANAUGH: And, Steve, I have to bring you in at this moment because as director of Pacific Coast RAD and radKIDS, your organization, which calls themselves self defense programs, obviously there is some physical – there is a physical aspect but there’s also an empowerment aspect and it’s staggered for the age of the children involved, isn’t it?
WILLIAMS: Yes, radKIDS starts actually at three and a half and in a pre-school format and then goes up to age 12, for boys and girls. Then at age 13, girls can continue on with training in the RAD program, which is, hopefully, a mother-daughter scenario that we can give the risk reduction awareness aspects of these classes to both mom and daughter.
CAVANAUGH: And these programs you don’t find frighten children.
WILLIAMS: Not at all. In fact, we make it fun. It’s a fun time for them, they learn by doing, they – We actually train the brain. We don’t just lecture to children. You can’t do that with a five-year-old. So we have a variety of activities throughout the two-hour session where they’re actually learning what we teach them in terms of out and about safety, bus safety, dog safety. All of the things we have an associated drill that they actually participate in and do over and over again.
CAVANAUGH: Steve, what would you say the key is for protecting children? Obviously, they can’t really use a lot of physical force in order to battle an adult or a predator in that way so what is the key to keeping them safe?
WILLIAMS: Well, primarily, first thing is to recognize situations for what they are and try and move away from them. If they are in a scenario where somebody might grab them or try and hurt them, certainly our physical techniques go to vulnerable locations like the eyes, the throat, the groin where they can. Even a five-year-old can attack the eyes very effectively and use that as a means to escape.
CAVANAUGH: I see. And in a larger sense, David, staying safe might have to do with how empowered you feel in the world.
PETERS: Exactly. The more powerful we feel, the more we live in peace and the more we can be aware and, actually, keep ourselves safe. I really do think that there’s a darn good argument for having a RAD program in every school. Just as we teach our teenagers how to drive safely, defensive driving, we teach kids to look both ways before crossing the street, why not teach kids how to keep themselves safe in a formalized program that instills a sense of confidence and a sense of wisdom about the world? And this is far preferable than a reaction of horror and fear and pain and vengeance.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Simons (sp) is calling from North County. Simons, welcome to – and welcome to These Days.
SIMONS (Caller, North County): Good morning. You know, I just feel that I’ve been listening to all of these conversations and nobody has addressed the issue about, you know, that these people that commit these crimes are not well because I just heard two days ago on the television, they said that the boy did not take his medication and, you know, he was mentally challenged or mentally not well. But, you know, a lot of these people that commit these crimes should be in mental institutions, instead they are let loose early and so I don’t know. You know, I’d like to ask them the question is, what do you do with people that are not well?
CAVANAUGH: Simons, that is – that, unfortunately, is a question for another day and a very, very large and important question, and I thank you for your phone call. Let’s hear from Moorah calling from Carmel Mountain Ranch. Good morning and welcome to These Days.
MOORAH (Caller, Carmel Mountain Ranch): Good morning. I think the way to approach reducing occurrence of such horrible crimes is education and therapy in addition to law enforcement because law enforcement itself will not be sufficient. I understand this guy had a troubled and turmoiled family and school life and we could perhaps avoid this happening if the school system and the court system could reach his family for being good parents and fix his emotional problems. So I believe we need to have more social services at schools and prisons, and this always hits the budget…
MOORA: …concerns of governments and subsistence. But at the bottom line nothing is free. If we do not pay for education, we have to go through such perils and now we have to pay for his service – pay the services of police, legal proceeding, and his living expenses in jail.
CAVANAUGH: Moorah, thank you so much for your call. I appreciate it. You know, gentlemen, there is going to be a “Finish Chelsea’s Run, Take Back the Parks” event scheduled for Saturday, March 20th, at the park where Chelsea King disappeared. And Marc, I wonder – I’d like to get all of your takes, if I could. Let me start with Marc, about how important events are like this for the community to maybe start healing.
KLAAS: Oh, I think they’re very important. I mean, it’s a shared experience. It is trying to take back the streets. Hopefully, it will instill self confidence but even more importantly, it will impart knowledge. And I think knowledge truly is the key to any of these prevention programs.
CAVANAUGH: And, Steve, at places – at events like this, do you find that people come up and they’re interested in taking a self defense course?
WILLIAMS: Oh, I use public fairs all the time as a manner of getting out the word about RAD and radKIDS. I do an annual program with Qualcomm where I teach a women’s self defense program for the staff at Qualcomm. So those venues are very good for me to expose everybody as much as I can to the program, as well as what’s on the website. I’m on both the RAD Systems and radKIDS websites. So you can look under California and find me there.
CAVANAUGH: And, David, when the community joins together in a run, in a big memorial service, what does that do for the community members?
PETERS: Well, these can contribute substantially to the community. These are rituals. You know, a “Take Back the Park” run, a memorial service at Poway High School, these are rituals. And we humans do heal through ritual activity in groups and when we gather as a community, we’re not alone. When we’re not alone, we feel less isolated, we feel like we’re part of a larger cause and we feel safer. And not only that, this is healing on a neurological level. To go on this run, for those who are feeling traumatized and want to feel like they want to take back the park, they want to take back that territory, this is something that can heal on a deep level. It could be worth hours of individual psychotherapy in an office, and it’s free and it’s more fun.
CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you all so much for speaking with us. Marc Klaas, thank you so much.
KLAAS: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: David Peters and Steve Williams, thanks for coming in and speaking with us.
PETERS: It’s good to see you again, Maureen.
WILLIAMS: Thank you very much.
CAVANAUGH: And I want to encourage everyone to continue this discussion online. You can go to KPBS.org/thesedays. Thanks so much for listening. Join us again tomorrow here on KPBS.