Antioch, Calif., Schools Up Security after Kidnapping Attempt

Schools have ramped up precautionary efforts following incidents involving strangers on campus, the most recent happening last week at Marsh Elementary School.

At around 1:30 p.m. Dec. 8, a man described as white in his early 30s with blond hair attempted to kidnap a first-grade girl near the back gate of Marsh, according to police.

The man asked the girl to go with him, but when she didn't, he attempted to take her hand, police said. She pulled away and ran to an after-school program director to report the incident. The police were contacted and say they're investigating.

Parents were notified by fliers sent home with students the next day.

Since the beginning of the year, Marsh has implemented a buddy system for all students. Any child walking on campus to and from class is accompanied by another student, Principal Veronica Kimble said.

"We're always looking for more ways to keep our students safe ... so that will always be a topic we engage in at the school site," Kimble said. "We have been talking with students about 'stranger danger' since the beginning of school because it's a part of our routine each year."

Campuses have been on heightened alert since September after a man attempted to kidnap a 5-year-old girl after school at Sutter Elementary School.

Also, at Carmen Dragon Elementary School, a man was seen by the principal lurking around the kindergarten area as students were released at 11:20 a.m.

Richard Espinoza, 28, of Bay Point was arrested Sept. 30 on suspicion of being the man involved in the Sutter case. He hasn't been charged in the case.

When he was arrested behind Park Middle School, he was driving a black minivan missing the middle seats and equipped with two sets of handcuffs bolted to the floor, according to police. He also had a blanket over the back seat and was carrying a knife and bandanna, according to detectives. The license plates were also missing.

He's being detained at the county jail in Martinez on unrelated charges.

An informational flier with a mug shot and details of Espinoza are still posted in school office windows. Fliers were also sent home with students to inform parents of the specific incidents.

Antioch Unified also has a restraining order against Espinoza on behalf of Superintendent Dennis Goettsch, which orders him not to come within 300 yards of Goettsch's place of work. That includes all schools and school district property. The order expires Oct. 21, 2007.

Goettsch said the district is also hoping to work with police in training school administrators to teach their students about the dangers of strangers. He also plans to sit down with the police department to review Antioch Unified's security measures.

"I think that because of some of the things that have happened this year, everybody has a more heightened sense of security," Goettsch said. "These are certainly issues we've dealt with in the past, but when you have an incident like with Mr. Espinoza, it can trigger a whole lot of things like people coming in overly concerned. But certainly it's important to be overcautious than undercautious . . . and I think students become much more aware and they report things they may normally not report."

It was soon after the September incident at Carmen Dragon that Principal Didi Del Chiaro initiated an after-school pick up system.

Students not picked up after 20 minutes are taken to a classroom and looked after by a teacher. Anyone coming to pick them up must check in at the front office, show a photo ID and their names must match one of those listed on the child's emergency contact list. They are then given a slip and taken to the classroom where they sign the child out.

"We were thinking about doing something like this anyway, but when these incidences began, we moved quickly on it, and it's been very, very successful," Del Chiaro said. "It's a safety net for kids, but it also allows us to communicate with parents when they come in."