Woman Accused of Bid to Abduct Child
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Jack Miller remembered what he had been taught about "stranger danger" when a woman he didn't know approached him this week in his Rockville elementary school.
"Where are we going?" the 5-year-old asked the stranger Tuesday. "Where are you taking me?"
The words, which Jack had learned to say in a taekwondo class, struck a volunteer at Lakewood Elementary School as unusual. Noticing that Jack had neither his coat nor backpack, the volunteer decided to intervene.
Yesterday, police charged the stranger, a 39-year-old parent at the school, with kidnapping. Xuhua Huang allegedly attempted to abduct the boy because she thought her daughter was not being treated well at the school and she wanted "to make someone else feel the way she did in regards to how her child was being treated," police wrote in a charging document.
Efforts to reach Huang or her relatives were unsuccessful yesterday. She was being held at the county jail, and court records listed no attorney for her.
Although Huang was permitted on school property, officials and some parents said the incident raised concerns about security.
"There was a breach here, and we're very concerned about this breach," said Robert Hellmuth, the county's director of school security.
On Tuesday morning, school officials called Huang and her husband, telling them that their 6-year-old daughter had a rash and asking them to pick her up, according to a police charging document. Huang and her husband did so, but Huang's husband felt the rash was not unusual, according to the document. At some point, she left her daughter with her husband, returned to the school and grabbed Jack outside a bathroom, according to the charging document.
Volunteer Cindy Pohoryles, co-president of the school's PTA, was in the hallway. Pohoryles said in an interview that she followed Huang and Jack out of the building. In a parking lot, near a blue minivan, Huang's husband argued with his wife in a language Pohoryles did not understand, she said. Pohoryles called for Jack, who ran to her.
"This is a real wake-up call that [security] needs to be a priority," Pohoryles said.
Warren Miller, the boy's father, also criticized Lakewood's security, saying that in the past, he has been able to pick up his son without signing in or showing anyone identification. "Anybody can walk in and walk out," Miller said.
After the incident, school officials barred Huang from Montgomery school properties.
The cordon of safety that surrounds children in the region's public schools, although tightened since the 2001 terror attacks and the 2002 D.C. sniper case, might not have prevented Tuesday's near abduction.
Visitors to any Montgomery school are supposed to sign in at the front office and wear a "visitor" sticker, and school employees are trained to confront anyone not wearing one, Hellmuth said. Forty Montgomery schools screen the driver's licenses of visitors against criminal databases, he said, and all 200 campuses will have the technology within five years. Three Montgomery schools have buzzer-activated front entrances, and all elementary schools will have them within four years, he said. None of this would have stopped Huang, who was in the school as an invited guest and had signed in. Jack had a hall pass and was unaccompanied.
Hellmuth said the school system would consider new rules to require that the youngest students travel with adult escorts or student "buddies." Newer schools build bathrooms into kindergarten classrooms.
"We're looking at, do we let 5-year-olds leave the cafeteria and walk to the restroom by themselves?" Hellmuth said.