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Hey kids, give us parents a heads up

POSTED: May 31, 2008 5:00 a.m.

I’ve been doing what I do for a long time. The stories I’ve written cover everything from movie stars to folks living on the street.

I’ve covered my fair share of crime stories. I don’t do that too often these days. We’ve got a guy at our paper who is one of the best court and crime reporters in the business, and I’d much rather leave that job to him.

But he’s human and he does get a day off. That was the case this week when word came that a search was under way nearby for Meredith Emerson, the young woman who we now know was brutally murdered in Dawson County.

My boss asked who could go and I volunteered. It was a nice day and if nothing else, I’d enjoy a ride through the countryside.

I went to Dawson County and spent an hour or two chewing the fat with other reporters and some law officers posted at a roadblock. About sundown, I went home to write that the search would resume the next morning.

About the time I finished what I thought would be my story, a phone call alerted me to a news conference at 10 p.m. They had found the woman’s body.

This story had touched me from the beginning.

From her pictures, Meredith Emerson was an all-American girl. She was fresh-faced, naturally pretty and just seemed to enjoy life.

Perhaps the thing that made this hit home with me is that she was 24. We have three daughters, ages 17, 20 and 24. I couldn’t help but put myself, as best one can, in the place of her parents.

My wife and I have reached the point that if we hear of an accident in the general direction our kids may be going, we start calling their cell phones. Sometimes, we get their voice mail, which is worse than getting a busy signal. We don’t really talk about it, but we are silently nervous until we hear from them.

I know a cell phone would not have changed the outcome for Meredith, but this tragedy should be a wake-up call to all young people. Our kids, including our 22-year-old son, live on a cell phone. Often, it’s to the point they get so wrapped up in their conversations they become oblivious to what is going on around them.

For God’s sake, put down those dad-gum phones when you are in unfamiliar surroundings or in a crowd. Be aware of where you are and who is around you.

Young people think they are invincible. They follow just enough of the news to know when bad things happen, but somehow can’t see it happening to them.

How many times did we hear the warning about talking to strangers? We were warned repeatedly as kids about not getting in the car with someone we didn’t know.

This guy in this case could have used his dog as a way of striking up conversations. It’s an understandable scenario: he’s out walking his dog, must be a nice guy. It’s not much different from the stranger with candy we were warned about.

To all the young adults out there, please understand that when we ask you to call when you get to your destination, we’re not trying to put you on a leash. There is someone waiting at home who loves you and just wants you to be safe.

Harris Blackwood is community editor of The Times. His columns appear Wednesdays in the print edition only and Sundays.



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