Though she was worried about her brother's injury as the stranger had mentioned, she first asked him for the code word without getting into the car.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on November 16, 2022. It has since been updated.
Three years ago, when Maddison Raines was 10 years old, she was walking near a park with her friend when a stranger approached them in a white SUV.
According to the little girl, the man shielded his face while telling Maddison that her brother had “been in a serious accident” and he had been instructed to come to pick her up. Instead of panicking and getting into the car with the man, Maddison immediately asked him what the family’s code word was, according to PEOPLE.
"I was terrified," the girl said. "I was terrified that my brother was in an actual accident, that he could be hurt." But she let her sense of alertness overtake her sense of fear.
That question stunned the stranger who had no answer. He blanked out and immediately drove away, prompting Maddison to run home immediately and tell her grandmother about what happened.
“He just kind of froze, his face. And drove off,” the fifth-grader told Good Morning America, adding, “I was scared because if I would’ve hopped in, I didn’t know what he would do to me.”
Arizona-based mom Brenda James shared at the time that the family had recently launched the use of a code word to use in dangerous situations, explaining, “[Maddison] can show other kids it’s okay to ask that question and not everyone’s your friend. I think kids respond more to kids than they do to adults, and they can understand they can be brave and smart and run.”
In a Facebook post by the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office that has since been deleted, Sheriff Mark Lamb praised Maddison’s parents for teaching this smart strategy to their daughter.
“Kudos to the parents of this child for having a code word and talking about to their children about stranger danger,” he said. “We hope by putting this out, it will encourage parents to have that conversation and create a plan with their children, so they know what to do if they are in that situation.”
“They know who can pick them up and who can’t,” James said of her kids. “But there’s always that special situation where there might be somebody they don’t know or don’t know well, so that’s why we came up with a code word.”
Callahan Walsh, an expert with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said children get away from potential threats due to "something they did on their own volition."
"Eighty percent of the time children are able to get away from the would-be abductor is because of something they did on their own volition," Walsh said. "And that's kicking and screaming or using the code word."
Thanks to the girl's quick thinking, she was able to scare off the suspected abductor. Had it not been for the code word system her mom had introduced, this story probably would have ended in a different manner.
Cover Image Source: YouTube | Good Morning America (10-year-old describes how she stopped a would-be kidnapper)