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Sat, Oct. 19

Kooiman, Chamber have message for those who would harm kids<BR>

Third- through fifth-grade students packed the Lake Valley Elementary gym on Thursday to learn about safety tips and self-defense techniques to prevent abduction.

"Remember, safety starts with you," Prescott Valley Police Officer Jennifer Miller said as a couple hundred students carefully listened, occasionally replying to the officer's questions. "You are our precious resource. We (the police) will protect you as much as we can. But we need your help to do that."

The assembly was an introduction to the second annual "Hands Off Our Children " – if our hands are on, their hands are off – event, which will start at 6 p.m. Sept. 20 at Yavapai Downs in Prescott Valley.

Kooiman Realty and the Prescott Valley Chamber of Commerce are sponsoring the event, with a goal to spread awareness about abduction and crimes against children and adults in our community.

"My idea was sparked by Rev. John Stone," said Jeri Ann Kooiman, owner of Kooiman Realty and the initiator of the event. "His niece was abducted and murdered and they did find her body."

"We need to realize that there are approximately seven million latch-key kids that are left alone after school," said Kooiman, who has three grandchildren.

A sex offender or someone who is going to abduct a child plans carefully which child they are going to snatch, she said.

"This is something that they live and breathe for," she said. This is their entire existence. They, for months and months, tend to watch a neighborhood and plan out which child they are going to take."

In the upcoming months, Kooiman Realty, which has teamed up with the Prescott Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Humboldt Unified School District (HUSD), the Prescott Valley Police Department and other tri-city law enforcement agencies, will be producing a "Hands Off Our Children" video.

"We are in the works of putting together a training video with all of the other police agencies, including the Yavapai Sheriff's Department," she said. "We'll tape various scenarios of what tricks predators (will use) to lure our children out of their safety zones. One of the training things that we are going to put in our training video is that predators will go up to doors."

Next January, the video will be distributed to all the schools, churches and organization free of charge, she said, and used as a tool for presentations.

HUSD Superintendent Roger Short said that it is really important that education partners with the families in the community to provide a safe environment for the kids.

"We want to play our part," he said. "We can't thank Jeri Kooiman and the 'hands off our kids' program enough for allowing us to participate."

A quality presentation such as the one that officers Miller, Jason Lohman and J.P. Dunn presented will instill in kids safety tips that they need to know to protect themselves.

"I think more reinforcement from the teachers and the program will get us there," he said.

Kooiman said that a local Self-Defense Academy, which specializes in self-defense for children, has joined the team as well. In fact, during the Lake Valley assembly, self- defense instructor Rick Frye and his student, John Stearling, demonstrated to students how to make an escape from the dangerous arms of predators. Fourth-grader Nick Crowford volunteered to be a target child.

If a stranger grabs a child from behind, for example, the child needs to step hard on his foot and pull his baby finger backward so as to break it, Frye said. That will force the abductor to let the child go.

Despite the seriousness of the subject children couldn't help not to giggle seeing Frye's self-defense demonstrations.

"You can't repeat children's safety enough, especially when comes to strangers and the unknown," said Miller, who is also the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer for HUSD. "We can talk about stranger danger all day. But they've got to be alert as to their surroundings. It got to be reinforced at home."

Miller said that times have changed from when she was a kid.

"These days, there are still good people out there," she said. "More good than there are people who want to hurt children. But it is still very difficult (to relate a safety massage to them) because 'do you want them to be afraid of everyone?'"

Beginning next week, the state will implement the Amber Alert to help alert the public when a child is abducted, she said.

"Everyone is going to have an opportunity to participate in this," Miller said. "We hope that we will never have to use it. At least, it is another tool that we have to keep our children safe as much as possible."

Being raised in this area, Kooiman has seen tremendous growth and change, she said. Many people move to this area to raise their family, she said, and predators will move here for the same reason.

"When I was a kid, there was no Highway 69," she said. "Prescott Valley wasn't even here. I'm a native who appreciates how things are changing so fast. But I think people have a false sense of security that we do not have danger here and we do."

About 75 percent of all stranger- abducted children are killed within the first three hours, she said. In our state alone there are 3,000 missing persons at any given time, she said.

Miller, Short and many local dignitaries, including parents of Mikelle Biggs who vanished about three years ago while waiting on a street for an ice cream truck in Mesa, will speak at the upcoming gathering.

On that evening, the AmeriCorps will sponsor a Kids Fun Zone Center for those parents who want to leave their children and attend the program. Various activities for children will begin at 5 p.m. and they will include free child fingerprinting and face painting by the Green Fairy, handing out balloons and safety information. The Phoenix Suns junior team will be giving out autographs and basketballs.

For more information, contact Kooiman Realty at 775-8880 or the Prescott Valley Chamber of Commerce at 772-8857.

Contact Mirsada Buric-Adam at

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