The shaken dad of an 11-year-old girl who was almost snatched outside Wakatipu High says he’s proud of his kid for fending off the fiend.
Speaking publicly for the first time, the father, who doesn’t want to be named, reveals his courageous young daughter is recovering from her terrifying ordeal on Monday “extremely well”.
“She was fairly brave about it – she had been a little tearful, she was a little worried, but no, she handled it very well,” he tells Mountain Scene.
The Queenstown Primary student had walked up Fryer Street to Wakatipu High for a music lesson at about 3.10pm when the stranger – a well-built Maori man in his thirties – brazenly stepped out of a green car parked outside the gymnasium and tried to force her into the vehicle.
The quick-thinking youngster managed to bolt and got away unharmed.
Her dad says the shocking incident is every parent’s worst nightmare.
“Of course you’re worried about it.
“You don’t expect this to happen in Queenstown. Queenstown’s just a little town … but from what I understand, these events are relatively infrequent and let’s hope that continues.”
The victim described the alleged predator as short to medium in height, with short black hair with a rat’s tail or tails. He was wearing a dark purple shirt which had some white markings on it, jeans and thin-framed sunglasses.
Detective sergeant Grahme Bartlett of Queenstown police says: “As she got closer to the vehicle, he made a comment for her to get into the vehicle which she didn’t obviously agree to – he grabbed at her arm which she believes was to pull her into the vehicle, eluded his grasp, ran into Wakatipu High and elicited her teacher.”
The girl’s relieved dad adds: “She did the right thing, she’s a good girl. She didn’t muck around – she went straight in and told the police.”
He’s also grateful for the swift actions of cops and for the support from Queenstown Primary pincipal John Western, the dad says.
And while his girl isn’t often out alone, he says: “We certainly wouldn’t be stopping her from walking on streets and it wouldn’t change anything we do in the future.”
Police interviewed the victim on Monday night and she was in Dunedin yesterday for further questioning.
Bartlett says a witness has come forward and was also interviewed yesterday.
Meanwhile, parents picking up their kids outside Queenstown Primary and Wakatipu High on Tuesday told Mountain Scene the incident is a wakeup call.
One mum, parked on Fryer St, metres from where Monday’s scare happened, says it would be easy for people to prey on kids in that area: “It’s a dark quiet street and it’s not till the high school kids come out that it gets busy.”
The mum adds: “We moved down here from Hawke’s Bay to get away from this sort of stuff.
“I was really looking forward to not being so scared about anything because Queenstown seems so safe but this has really knocked me for six.”
Western says measures have been put in place to ensure kids leave school safely.
“This is new to us … [but] a timely reminder to think about our children – it’s that balance between them growing up and gaining independence … and still doing everything we can to keep them safe,” he says.
Bartlett says police are working through a list of “persons of interest” who match the assailant’s description.
Monday’s occurrence follows “a number of [indecent behaviour] inci-dents” against kids at Alpine Aqualand and the Events Centre in January. A 36-year-old Hamilton man is in custody pending further court appearances in relation to those.
“There are people in all communities that will offend towards children,” Bartlett says. “[People say] these things just don’t happen in Queenstown, but they do. You’re naive if you don’t think there are sexual offenders amongst us.
“Parents need to be aware we’re not crime-free here, as much as we wish we were.”
The end of innocence
It took just a few seconds but Queenstown’s illusion of being an ultra-safe place for kids is now shattered.
After an alleged abductor’s brazen attempt to snatch an 11-year-old girl in daylight on Fryer Street outside Wakatipu High, many parents will now think twice about how their youngsters get around the resort.
Detective sergeant Grahme Bartlett says Queens-town’s no different to any other part of the country and it’s naive to think such stalkers don’t live in our midst.
It’s commonsense advice, but it’d be fair to say many residents actually do think the place is different – the kind of town where you don’t have to worry about letting your kid walk to and from school themselves. A worried mum who recently moved her family from Hawke’s Bay to be in a safer community certainly thought so when speaking to Mountain Scene about the fright.
At first glance, Queenstown isn’t the sort of place you’d expect to find sinister men lurking near schools. Sadly, since Monday, perhaps that’s no longer the case.