Communication is key -- that's what experts say about protecting your kids from strangers and predators. But who do you really need to look out for? Our special report on stranger danger continues with a look at how danger may lurk closer than you think.
The fair is supposed to be a place for fun and games, especially for kids. But earlier this month 23-year-old Reyaldo Martagon, a ride operator at the Cape Fear Fair and Expo, was charged with inappropriately touching an 11-year-old girl after the girl's mother reported the incident to security.
It is the unexpected that worries many parents as they do all they can to protect their children.
New Hanover County Sheriff's Lieutenant Travis Robinson helps teach kids about stranger danger. He says there is no particular person to look out for, but there are ways to tell if someone is a potential threat.
"Coming in the neighborhood, riding around slowly observing the houses and looking at the children that are walking around in the neighborhood and trying to see who would be a proper target for them to engage in a conversation," Robinson said.
He says predators may try to ask a child for directions or using an animal and claiming to need help finding its owner. Others may spend time building trust with kids, even buying them treats.
"Some ways to get the kids to close enough for them to have some type of physical contact so that they can do what they do, unfortunately," Robinson said.
Kids are not the only ones who have to be aware. Parents need to watch their surroundings, too.
"You take your kids to the playground. Is there somebody there who's just sitting, kind of hanging out on the outskirts that doesn't seem to have a child there?" WPD Juvenile Crimes Investigator Det. David Timken said. "What's he doing? Is he reading the paper? Is he eating his lunch? Or is he carrying a bag on his lap? A lot of times, it's a concealed camera."
And those are just the people you can see. Behind your child's bedroom door could be a whole virtual world of contacts preying on their naïveté and trust: e-mails leading to instant messages, phone calls, face-to-face meetings, even gifts sent to the house.
Cyber-crimes investigator Det. Randy Eslick said, "If the parents see anything coming through the mail as far as going to the child from someone they don't know, they need to see what's going on with that."
But as much of a worry as strangers are there may be an even greater, even closer threat to your children.
"A lot of the reports we see are by people that the parents had entrusted to care for their child… More so than strangers," Timken said.
For example, the case of Collis Hewett: the school janitor pleaded guilty earlier this year to molesting a special needs student at South Brunswick High School several times over two years.
But local investigators say it can happen in your home, as well.
"We have arrested moms, dads, aunts, uncles. It's to the point who do you really trust with your children," Eslick said.
"They know mom or they know dad. But how well do you know the new live-in significant other? How well do you know their kids? How old are their kids? Who else is visiting the house? Who's staying over?" Timken said.
These officers all reinforced the same thing to parents: keep an open dialogue with your child and take the time to listen when they have something to tell you.