Tragedy inspires former cop, Blue Springs dad to teach children how to fend off stranger danger

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BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. -- The FBI says a child goes missing every 40 seconds in the United States, and now one Blue Springs dad and ex-cop is working to change that.

Former Blue Springs police officer Nick Spencer said it all started last year, after prosecutors say a man kidnapped, raped and murdered 10-year-old Hailey Owens not far from her Springfield, Mo., home.

“It crushed me,” he said of watching the news about Hailey’s disappearance. “It was just absolutely horrible. I have children and I can't imagine what those parents would go through, that feeling, just not knowing where she was and then obviously the results that came afterwards.”

It was a tragedy that inspired Spencer to create a class that teaches other kids how to avoid a similar fate. His class is called Keep Them Safe, and it uses the acronym S.A.F.E. to remind kids to scan, avoid, fight and escape danger.

“We want them to know that if someone's trying to hurt them, someone is trying to take them, they have the right to defend themselves,” he said, “to fight back against this, and to get away.”

The program is designed to teach kids ages five to 13 how to recognize and avoid stranger danger; and if necessary, fight back against their attacker for a chance to escape.

“We train all the way up to where if a child does get abducted, what to do now,” he said, “how to get out of a car, how to get out of a trunk, how to get out of someone’s house.”

Spencer works with other former military and law enforcement officers to teach kids the basics in the classroom, then test what they learned on the playground through pretend abduction attempts.

“We truly believe that you don't get to pick when you're going to be a victim, but you can always choose to not be a helpless victim,” he said.

Both of Mickie Heiter's kids have taken the class.

“I want them to be safe when they’re not with me,” she said. “I want to have a little bit more peace of mind that they have better tools.”

Her 12-year-old daughter, Brenna, said she uses those tools every day when walking home from the bus stop.

“I watch to see if someone is walking close to me so I know if they’re like going to do anything,” Brenna said.

Of course, they hope they never have to use any of it, but should that day come, they'll be prepared.

“We’re here for one reason: it’s to educate, equip and empower children to survive an abduction,” Spencer said.

The program isn't affiliated with any organization, but its instructors have a combined 50 years of experience in the military and law enforcement.

The next class will be April 18.

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