Leiby Kletzy was 8. He may have been a Brooklyn child but he wasn’t street smart by any stretch of the imagination. On Monday he became lost on what was supposed to be a short walk and asked a stranger for directions. Two days later police found his body dismembered in a fridge in an apartment and in a bin on the street. Police are questioning a man who allegedly picked the child up in his car.
Headlines in newspapers online are written to make you click on them. When I saw the picture of Leiby Kletzy with the words “Lost boy killed after asking for help” I knew what was to come.
Not the story so much, which is horrifying and heartbreaking. I too, have only one son and have three daughters to the Kletzy family’s four. The death of a child is a tragedy and reading of this little boy’s death made my chest constrict and heart ache. It would for anyone, parent or non-parent alike. However, it wasn’t reading the story that I was dreading; it is the change in society over the next few days.
For the next week I can expect several people to say directly to my daughter, in my presence, not to trust anybody, to never talk to strangers. They’ll tell me, in front of my daughter, how sad it is that you just never know where the next psycho lives and what a shame we live in a society where I can never, ever, let my child out of my sight.
People who know I believe in the ‘free range’ philosophy of raising children will make a point to contact me or send me the link. See, do you see? This is what happens when a child walks home alone.
Because even though it isn’t true, it seems like it sometimes. The SMH headline contains two messages : every child is in danger and never ask for help from strangers. Newspapers don’t run on being objective and calm, newspapers run on papers sold and clicks online. A child’s death is news, even if you have to get it from the other side of the globe. Very few papers will point out that you are more likely to die from a lightning strike or choking on a BBQ sausage that have your child abducted by a stranger then murdered. There is very little in society more life threatening than putting your child in a car and driving them around, yet we ignore it. We don’t weigh risk objectively.
It really took me by surprise the first time someone gave my daughter stranger danger advice. By now, though, my default response is to immediately squat down next to my five year old daughter and say “Don’t listen to this person. If someone is making you feel uncomfortable, talk to the nearest adult. If you are lost, talk to the nearest adult. You can trust them.”
As horrible as Leiby Kletxy’s death is, he was found because the community went all out to help search for the missing boy. The good people in this story outweigh the bad person by thousands to one. We do live in a community. Almost everyone is good. Tragedy happens, yes, but it is thankfully rare. When my daughter leaves the house to walk to a friend’s house, I don’t tell her to watch out for strangers, I tell her to watch out for cars and wave to everyone – to build her own community.
Because communities keep us safe.