GRANT, Mich. (WOOD) — While they urge parents to be vigilant about their kids’ online behavior, police say it’s just as important for kids to know how to protect them.
A program that shows Grand Public Schools students what to watch out for recently succeeded in its mission, yielding an arrest.
“We touch on some of these points as far as those warning signs and things to look out for,” Superintendent Brett Zuver said.
Leaders say it helped save a high schooler. After attending one such seminar, she went to the school resource officer.
“After the training, she realized that she was a victim and that she was being groomed,” Grant Police Department Chief Bradley Wade said.
“One of the things that we talk about is understanding what grooming is,” Deputy Bunnita Ouwinga of the Newaygo County Sheriff’s Office said. “Grooming is something predators do to hook kids in and get them to do what they want and eventually sometimes can get sucked into this horrible nightmare of human trafficking. So we give them examples and stories that they can look at and read and then talk about in groups.”
After the girl reported what happened, the sheriff’s Office, Grant police and the FBI worked together to arrest Patrick Lathrop, 30, of Philadelphia, when he arrived at the Grand Rapids airport on Jan. 14, hoping to meet the victim.
The superintendent praised the student for coming forward.
“We said all along, if it can help just one person with all of these thousands of hours of work, it’s worth it and it has already and I’m sure it’s going to help others moving forward,” Zuver said. “So make sure that you get informed, find people to talk to and, again, always go to a trusted adult even if you feel a little funny on the inside talking to somebody about it. If you are not sure, that little voice inside your head is right 99% of the time, so say something and help yourself.”
Experts say predators are good at drawing in potential victims, so kids need to be ready to protect themselves.
“Predators do this all the time. They are very smart and manipulative and so kids will fall into these things and let people in on a gaming situation or on Snapchat,” Ouwinga said. “These kids tell us … ‘This all started out when I was having a conversation, or playing a game online and then one of these people came in.’ And so we talk about that type of thing.”
She reminded kids to never give out personal information: Their name, birth date and address should all be kept private.
“If you are asked that, tell a trusted adult,” she said.
The Newaygo County Sheriff’s Office and the Grant Police Department have a task force working to educate students on digital safety across the state of Michigan. They reminded parents to keep an eye on their children’s online presence.
Lathrop is being held on a $75,000 cash bond in the Newaygo County jail. Federal charges are possible.