By Joe Beck
Parents in the Northern Shenandoah Valley are using a new Facebook page to quickly warn each other about about suspicious strangers approaching children in their neighborhoods.
Dawn Reynolds of Front Royal said in an email she created the page, Keep Our Kids Safe - Spread the Word, in response to hearing that a man had approached two girls in town on Saturday.
"He had pulled up beside them while they were walking and leaned out the window and made sexual accusations toward them," Reynolds wrote. "They were 13 years old; he was in his 30s."
Reynolds said she was also alarmed about news of a similar incident in Winchester.
The page went up on Monday and had attracted 1,545 group members by Wednesday afternoon.
Reynolds' concerns were underscored by a news release from the Front Royal Police Department asking the public for help in tracking down a man and his vehicle for suspicious actions with a girl near the intersection of South Royal Avenue and South Street on Oct. 4.
A press release issued by Chief Norman Shiflett reported that the girl told a police officer that a man in a white car pulled up beside her as she was walking down the street. The girl reported that the man asked if she needed a ride, Shiflett said.
The girl rejected the man's offer, but he repeated the question again, according to Shiflett. The man drove away northbound after she turned him down again, Shiflett said.
Authorities describe the vehicle as a white Nissan sedan with damage around the headlight on the passenger side. They described the driver as a white man 30- to 40-years-old with a scruffy goatee and short brown hair.
Shiflett said Warren County school officials were warned about the incident "in the event the vehicle is seen on or around school properties."
Anyone with information helping to identify the driver and his car is asked to call 635-2111.
Shiflett also urged parents to talk to their children about accepting rides or engaging in other activities with strangers.
Reynolds said her Facebook page immediately proved its worth when she heard from 7,500 people within 48 hours after the initial posting. The driver who approached the girls in Front Royal was a major topic.
"The community is very proactive," Reynolds wrote. "Once I created the page, numerous reports started to roll in regarding people who either had personally or knew someone who had been in contact or seen this person/truck."
Reynolds said the Facebook page can also be used to post videos for parents to show their children about risks of interacting with strangers and what to do when attacked. The page also links to the state's sex offender registry and other information designed to protect children.
"I am a mother of two and my kids are the world," Reynolds wrote. I never want to know the heartbreak of losing one of them. I feel that the Facebook group is a way to interact quickly with the community and get the word out there."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org