PORTAGE PARK — Two months after a 9-year-old boy told police he was kidnapped on his way home from Portage Park Elementary School, the school's Parent Teacher Association will host a seminar to teach students and parents ways to defend themselves.
Friday's Stranger Danger meeting, which is open only to parents of students at the school, will feature police officers from the Jefferson Park Police District and include sessions to teach students and parents what to do if they are attacked.
"We want to get our point across in a fun way," said Victoria Benson, chairwoman of the Local School Council and vice president of Portage Park Helping Hands.
It can be "awkward" to talk to kids about the dangers posed by strangers, especially after an incident occurs, Benson said.
The meeting, which was organized by PTA President Michelle Howard, was spurred in part by what happened to a 9-year-old student in November, Benson said. Ald. John Arena (45th) helped provide speakers for the all-volunteer event, she added.
The boy told police that on his way home from school Nov. 18, a man forced him into the back of a van and struck him. After the boy was found in an alley in the 4100 block of North Dickinson Avenue without any shoes on, police issued an alert, saying he had been kidnapped and assaulted.
But within 24 hours multiple police sources cast doubt on the boy's story, saying there were "inconsistencies" in what he told police. His mother told DNAinfo Chicago that the police's skepticism was unwarranted, and she was certain that her son had been attacked.
Adam Collins, a Chicago Police Department spokesman, said last week that detectives continue to investigate the case. Anyone with information is asked to call detectives at 312-744-8261.
Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th), whose ward includes the school, said he supported the meeting and he did not think the 9-year-old boy made up the story about being attacked.
"Something happened to that kid," Cullerton said. "Ending up blocks away from his home and school without any shoes on is not normal."
Benson, whose two sons attend Portage Park Elementary School, 5330 W. Berteau Ave., said she and other parents were frustrated there had been little information from the police about the incident.
In response, the PTA and Helping Hands have been working to help parents get to know each other, Benson said.
"Parents need to also be proactive, and this is one way to help them if they need it," Benson said, adding that the parents support the Police Department.
Jefferson Park police district Cmdr. James O'Donnell attended a meeting of the Local School Council and told parents they did not have to be concerned their children were at risk based on this incident, Benson said.
"We had been talking about having something like this before this happened," Benson said, adding that there are a number of sex offenders living near the school. "It's hard to know how to talk to your kids about this."