Police search for man who grabbed 7-year-old in schoolyard

Attempted abduction puts Beach neighbourhood on high alert

Parents in the Beach remain on high alert as police search for a man who tried to grab a 7-year-old boy from a schoolyard just minutes after the final bell.

The boy managed to fight off his attacker and run to his mother, who was at the front of the school. He was able to give police a detailed description of the man.

“He’s a trouper, he’s doing fine,” his mother told the Star. “I was with him through all of the interviews (with police), and I said, ‘I’m so glad you’re okay’ and that kind of thing. We’re happy that he’s safe.” The incident happened around 3:30 to 3:45 p.m. Wednesday at Williamson Road Public School. It has caused panic among the many families who live in the area, which is teeming with young children.

“Given the neighbourhood, and given it was the schoolyard, it’s assumed to be a safe place,” said school council co-chair Tim Pinos, who has two children at Williamson. “And I think 99.9 per cent of the time it is, but we have to be vigilant,” he said, adding the school makes streetproofing part of the curriculum for all students and that everything was reviewed with them on Thursday.

Det. Deb Houston, with the child and family violence unit at Toronto police’s 55 Division, said a man fitting the description was taken into custody on Thursday and questioned, but later released without charges. “We are still investigating,” Houston said. “We have a command post set up out front of the school, and officers are there. They are canvassing the neighbourhood as well as parents who may have been in the area at that time.”

Houston said a few people in the neighbourhood saw a man who fit the description in the area around the time of the incident, but police have yet to hear from anyone who witnessed it. “Apparently the pedestrian traffic in the area where it occurred is reduced” by 3:45 p.m., she added. The boy was in the rear playground of the school, north of Queen St. E. near Lee Ave., when the man tried to snatch him.

The man lifted him off the ground and over his shoulder, said the mother in an email to parents in the area. The boy then “kicked and screamed, aimed for the guy’s groin and hurt him good enough to get out of his grasp and the assailant fell to the ground in pain. Thank God (the boy) was diligent and got away.”

She and her son immediately reported the incident to the principal, and police were called.  Houston said she does not believe any teacher was on duty at the time; typically the yard is supervised for 15 minutes after the 3:20 p.m. dismissal. The boy returned to school on Thursday, said his mother.  “I am very proud of him, how he got away,” she said.

The Grade 2 student described the man as blond with a goatee and tattoos, about 18 to 20 years old and wearing a tank top and a gold chain.

Streetproofing tips from Toronto police

What your child needs to know:

Their name, address, phone number.

To dial 9-1-1 in an emergency.

To communicate with you when they feel unsafe or afraid.

To keep you informed about their whereabouts at all times.

Never to admit to being alone in the home when answering the telephone.

Never to invite strangers into the house or answer the door when alone.

Never to approach or enter a stranger’s car or hitchhike.

Never to travel or play alone — always be with friends.

To trust their feelings and say “NO” to an adult if the adult wants them to do something wrong.

Not to accept gifts from strangers.

To tell you if someone has asked them to keep a secret from you.

That no one has the right to touch any part of their body that a bathing suit would cover.

That if they are being followed or approached too closely, to run home or go to the nearest public place and yell for help.

To report to school authorities or a police officer, anyone who acts suspiciously towards them.

Never to play in deserted buildings or isolated areas.

Never to enter anyone’s home without your permission.

To avoid taking shortcuts through parks and fields.

Never to show their money and if attacked to give it up rather than risk injury.

That a police officer is a friend who can always be relied upon when they are lost or need assistance.

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