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Parents Rethink Safety In Their Own Backyard

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Aired 3/12/10

The Poway community celebrates the life of Chelsea King in a special memorial on Saturday. San Diego County is still reeling from the tragic loss of King and Escondido teenager Amber Dubois. The two cases have caused parents to consider the safety of their own children regardless of where they live.

— The Poway community celebrates the life of Chelsea King in a special memorial on Saturday. San Diego County is still reeling from the tragic loss of King and Escondido teenager Amber Dubois. The two cases have caused parents to consider the safety of their own children regardless of where they live.

A Neighborhood Watch sign greets visitors on a residential sidewalk in Poway.
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Above: A Neighborhood Watch sign greets visitors on a residential sidewalk in Poway.

A playground sits on a spacious front lawn of Becky Sangha’s Escondido home.
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Above: A playground sits on a spacious front lawn of Becky Sangha’s Escondido home.

Some North County communities are known for their large stucco homes and cul-de-sac neighborhoods.
Enlarge this image

Above: Some North County communities are known for their large stucco homes and cul-de-sac neighborhoods.

A long driveway leads to Becky Sangha's Escondido house. Sangha plays catch with two dogs on her spacious front lawn. She can see the Palomar Mountains from here.

Two weeks ago she was hiking near Lake Hodges with her five year old daughter. She heard something in the bushes that she thought was a deer. Out walked a man she later realized was James Gardener. Three hours later he was arrested as a suspect in King's disappearance.

"I can't believe we can come so close to being with these people and he could have lived in a great community that was just next doors to ours,” Sangha lamented.

Escondido is known for its big stucco houses and cul-de-sac neighborhoods nestled in rugged terrain. Its common to see kids riding their bikes or jogging. Sangha says families feel a sense of security here.

“A lot of people who live in Escondido and some of these North County cities have never even been to San Diego. So I think there is a feeling of it being different, being more isolated from the big city and therefore somehow safer.”

Sangha says that perception of safety allows for some children to experience a greater sense of freedom and independence.

“I see that here in Escondido when I’m driving around. I see some small children by themselves walking to and from somewhere. I have often thought I wouldn’t do that as a parent.”

That is generally not the case in Southeast San Diego, an inner-city area about 30 miles south of Escondido. The area has one of the largest concentrations of gangs in the county. It also has a lot of high risk and serious sex offenders because its cheap to live there.

“We have parents that deal with dangers everyday,” says Tasha Williamson who lives and works in Southeast San Diego. She’s the mother of two teenage boys, a daughter and a three-week-old son whom she cradles in her arms. She says gang shootings and sexual assaults are realities.

“Because its an inner city and there is a more dense population, everyone is more close together, they are more alert about crime,” Williamson said. “(Parents) know that crime exists here, they know that children get molested, raped, abducted and shot because we hear it, we see it, they live it.”

And Williamson says parents have an unspoken rule to look out for other kids and they're not afraid to have graphic conversations.

“And I tell my kids, even though this may sound harsh, do not allow someone take you to a second location. I'd rather them kill you where you are then to take you somewhere and torture you. So for me I teach my children to fight for your life, where you are.”

Harry Shelton is the principal of Morse High School in Southeast. He patrols his campus as hundreds of teenagers take their lunch break. Shelton says kids know how to maneuver around dangers.

“They know to work in groups, walk together, you never really see them alone,” Shelton said. “So (young people) have certain physical cues like streaking cars, sounds, noises, people. They go from point A and point B. They don't linger.”

Community efforts to create safe pathways for students as they walk to and from Southeast schools have resulted in fewer abductions, gang shootings and fights. That reflects an overall trend in San Diego where violent crimes such as rape and murder are also down.

Michael Brunker works with young people at the Jackie Robinson YMCA in Southeast San Diego. He says the falling crime statistics might be comforting for some families. But he says parents everywhere should always be on guard.

“There has never been a more important time for parents to hug their children to get close to them to really sit down and talk about this as opposed to acting like it just isn't happening or it happened in Poway or Escondido or another part of San Diego,” Brunker said.

He adds that's because you never know when violent crimes might affect you or your family or your community. And he says its cases like Chelsea King and Amber Dubois that bring that attention home.

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