Shannon could hear the footsteps behind her as she walked towards her home. The thought of being followed made her heart beat faster. “You’re being silly,” she told herself, “no one is following you.” To be safe, she began to walk faster, but the footsteps kept up with her pace. She was afraid to look back and she was glad she was almost home. She saw the front porch light burning and ran the rest of the way to her house. Once inside, she leaned against the door for a moment, relieved to be in the safety of her home. She glanced out the window to see if anyone was there. The sidewalk was empty.
After tossing her books on the sofa, she decided to grab a snack and get on-line. Shannon logged on under her screen name Angel. She checked her Buddy List and saw her online friend Mickey was also logged on. She sent him an instant message:
Angel: Hi I’m glad you are on! I thought someone was following me home today. It was really weird! I was really scared!
Mickey: You watch too much TV. Why would someone be following you? Don’t you live in a safe neighborhood?
Angel: Of course I do. I guess it was my imagination cuz’ I didn’t see anybody when I looked out.
Mickey: You’ll be O.K., unless you gave your name on-line. You haven’t done that have you?
Angel: Of course not. I’m not stupid you know.
Mickey: It’s Thursday, did you have a softball game after school today?
Angel: Yes and we won!!
Mickey: That’s great! Who did you play?
Angel: We played the Hornets. Their uniforms are so gross! They look like bees.
Mickey: What is your team called? Is it a school team?
Angel: We are the “Los-Gatos Saratoga Magic”. Our uniforms are really cool! Fisher Middle School doesn’t have a team, but we use the school field after school.
Mickey: Did you pitch?
Angel: No I play second base, just like my number. Well, I better go, my homework has to be done before my parents get home at 6:30. I don’t want them mad at me. Bye.
Mickey: Catch you later. Bye.
Meanwhile…. Mickey went to the buddy list and began to search for Angel’s profile. When it came up he highlighted it and printed it out. He took out a pen and began to write down that he knew about Angel so far.
Shannon didn’t tell her parents that she thought someone was following her while she was walking home after the last game. Parents were always overreacting and hers were the worst. It made her wish she was not an only child. Maybe if she had brothers and sisters, her parents wouldn’t be so overprotective. By the following Thursday, Shannon had forgotten about the footsteps following her. Her game was in full swing when suddenly she felt someone staring at her. It was then that the memory came back. She glanced up from her second base position to see a man watching her closely. He was leaning against the fence behind first base and he smiled when she looked at him. He didn’t look scary and she quickly dismissed the fear she had felt. After the game, he sat on a bleacher while she talked to the coach. She noticed his smile once again as she walked past him. He nodded and she smiled back. He noticed her name on the back of her shirt. He knew he had found her. Quietly, he walked a safe distance behind her. It was only a few blocks to Shannon’s home, and once he saw where she lived he quickly returned to the school field to get his car. Now he had to wait. Shannon was in her room later that evening when she heard voices in the living room.
“Shannon, come here,” her father called. He sounded upset and she couldn’t imagine why.
She walked into the room to see the man from the ballpark sitting on the sofa.
“Sit down,” her father began, “this man has just told us a most interesting story about you.”
“Do you know who I am, Shannon?” the man asked.
“No,” Shannon answered.
“I am a deputy sheriff and your on-line friend Mickey”
Shannon was stunned. “That’s impossible! Mickey is a kid my age! He’s 14 and he lives in Michigan!”
The man smiled, “I know I told you all that, but it wasn’t true. You see Shannon there are people on-line who pretend to be kids; I was one of them. But while others do it to find kids and hurt them, I belong to a group of parents who do it to protect kids fom predators. I came here to find you to teach you how dangerous it is to give out too much information to people on-line. You told me enough about yourself to make it easy for me to find you. Your name, the city you live in, the name of your school, the name of your softball team, and even the position you play. The number and name on your jersey just made finding you a breeze.”
Shannon was stunned. “You mean you don’t live in Michigan?”
He laughed. “No, I live in Saratoga. It made you feel safe you think I was so far away, didn’t it?” She nodded. “I had a friend whose daughter was like you. Only she wasn’t as lucky. The guy found her and murdered her while she was home alone. Kids are taught not to tell anyone when they are alone, yet they do it all the time on-line. Before you know it, you have told them enough for them to find you without even realizing you have done it. I hope you’ve learned a lesson from this and won’t do it again.”
“I won’t,” Shannon promised.
“Will you tell others about this so they will be safe too?”, said the deputy sheriff.
“It’s a promise!”, said Shannon.