ESCAMBIA COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Tampa Bay child self-defense experts are reacting to a terrifying video that shows an 11-year-old girl fight off a man who tried to kidnap her.
The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office started investigating the incident Tuesday after deputies say a white Dodge Journey pulled up to a child waiting at a bus stop in West Pensacola around 7 a.m.
Investigators say a man eventually got out of the SUV, reportedly armed with a knife. The suspect grabbed the little girl and a struggle ensued, according to the sheriff’s office.
Video shared by deputies shows the girl dropping her bag as she struggles with the man, who picks her up at one point and attempts to carry her away.
The girl was able to fight and break free from the suspect’s grip, deputies say. She is safe with her family.
The man is seen on video taking off after the failed attempt.
The man, later identified as Jared Paul Stanga, 30, was captured Tuesday evening. Stanga was arrested and charged with attempted kidnapping of a child under 13, assault and battery.
Surveillance cameras show a white Dodge Journey driving past the girl several times prior to the incident.
Escambia County Sheriff Chip Simmons also said the man had approached the girl once before, about two weeks ago, as she was waiting at a bus stop. The man spoke Spanish, and the girl did not understand everything he said, but Simmons said the incident made her uncomfortable.
“She seems to be doing well,” Simmons said Tuesday. “I’m not so sure if she actually comprehends exactly what could have happened. She understands what happened. She fought like a trooper, and one of these days I’m going to give her an award for fighting, and fighting, and fighting.”
The incident has sparked fear for many parents.
“Very shocking to see, but also very thrilled she was able to use whatever skills she had to get away and get out of the situation,” said parent Laura Kissak, who enrolled her son in martial arts to give him confidence in tough situations.
“You can’t keep living in a world where they think that this stuff doesn’t go on. I mean this is reality, so you have have to talk to them,” said Kissak.
Anthony Kuntz, Owner of Martial Arts Advantage South said it’s critical that parents watch the video and use it to talk to their children.
“I do think if we stay prepared as parents and help educate, these are tough talks to have with our kids. Let’s have these conversations with our kids in a very age-appropriate way, and let them know they are not allowed to go anywhere with anybody, without mom and dads permission,” said Kuntz.
While he teaches self defense techniques at his studios, Kuntz said children knowing how to handle situations is just as important. In this case, he believes it could have been what saved this girl’s life.
“Experts will tell you never to go to a secondary location. In her case, she stopped the bad guy in his tracks and hightailed it out of there,” said Kuntz.
Law enforcement agencies say it is critical to talk to your children about being aware of their surroundings, how to identify a threat, and how to react.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recommends teaching your child the following tips to help prevent abduction:
- Stay away from strangers. Explain what makes a person a stranger. Note that even someone with a familiar face is a stranger if you do not know him or her well.
- Stay away from anyone who is following you on foot or in a car. Don’t get close to them or feel as though you must answer any questions they ask you.
- Run and scream if someone tries to force you to go somewhere with them or tries to push you into a car.