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Las Cruces elementary schools on alert after reports of strangers luring children with gifts

By Vanessa de la Viña, vanessa@kvia.com
Published On: Oct 04 2012 10:27:38 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 07 2014 12:09:58 PM CST

ABC-7's Vanessa de la Viña reports.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -

It's any parent's nightmare. Strangers luring young children into their cars with gifts.

Las Cruces Public Schools officials told ABC-7 there were two incidents just this week.

On Tuesday, a few young students from Conlee Elementary School were walking home just a few blocks from the school when a car pulled up.

The children told their parents a driver pulled over near the intersection of Montana Avenue and Hamiel Drive. They said they realized something was wrong when the driver tried to lure them into his car, so they ran back to the school for safety.

The following day it happened again at a bus stop on Sixth Street and Wilson Avenue. Police said a young boy and girl were waiting for the bus when a grey car approached them.

The children, who are students at MacArthur Elementary School, said a Hispanic man with a white beard offered them money and a toy if they got in the car. They ran into a nearby convenience store.

Hearing these reports has one Las Cruces family nervous to let their kids return to school.

"It felt scary and I didn't like it. I just wanted to not walk home anymore," 8-year-old Destiny Portillo told ABC-7.

Destiny and her siblings all attend Conlee Elementary.

"I was scared for my kids, even my nieces and nephews," Destiny's aunt, Ruby Ruiz, told ABC-7.

Ruiz and Destiny haven't been able to stop thinking about these incidents that could have been much worse.

Destiny usually walks home with her three siblings.

While all of the children involved in this week's incidents were able to safely get away, that hasn't eased Ruiz's nerves.

"My kids used to walk home from school and now they don't walk home no more," Ruiz said.

Head of security for LCPS, Todd Gregory, told ABC-7 the children were lucky and smart enough to escape.

"The kids did the right thing. They separated from that incident, those people and went to a safe place. We did avoid what could have quite possibly been an abduction or something worse," Gregory said.

Police are taking these reports seriously. They're working together with the school district.

"We're increasing patrols around the bus stops and areas around the schools. We do have an effort to have a specific officer assigned probably in a non-uniform capacity in the area where this occurred," Las Cruces Police spokesman Wallace Downs said.

Ruiz said she's making sure her kids know exactly what to do in these situations.

"If any of my sisters or brother got stolen I just would've ran home and told my mom so she could call the cops," Destiny said.

"I hope it doesn't happen again," Ruiz said.

Police said they do not think the two incidents are related, though they said it is unusual to have this kind of situation on two consecutive days.

They are still investigating and do not have any suspects at this time.

Enticing a child is a misdemeanor.

All elementary schools in the district have been alerted to the incidents. Many have addressed the issue in the classrooms. Some schools sent home pamphlets with safety tips.

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