Parents, even before Sandra Cantu’s kidnapping and murder, how much room did you give your kids to roam?

The March 27 disappearance of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu from her Tracy mobile home park, and the subsequent discovery of her body on Monday, has raised a lot of troubling questions, particularly among parents and caregivers.

Us parents and caregivers have definitely asked ourselves (and chimed in our views) about how closely we should monitor our kids. Some people on news websites—including this one—have lambasted the Cantu family for being unaware of this 8-year-old’s whereabouts for several hours on that fateful afternoon and evening of Friday, March 27.

At the same time, there are people springing to the family’s defense, people who describe living in similarly close-knit neighborhoods where kids roam freely—and safely. Or people who themselves grew up in such safe, non-threatening neighborhoods.

I grew up in Walnut Creek, in a neighborhood near downtown. When I was probably 6, 7 or 8 years old–on Saturdays, Sundays, or on summer days–I would be gone from home for hours at a time. I’d tear across my cul-de-sac to play with the neighbor boy across the street. I’d disappear into his big, hilly back yard with its orchards and groves, where the two of us would devise all sorts of amazing imaginary adventures.

My mother, as far as I knew, never worried that I wouldn’t return home by nightfall. And this was when I was pretty young—Sandra’s age, 8 years old, and even younger.

At some point, probably when I was a bit older, I remember how my neighbor friend, Steve, and I—and probably a few other neighborhood kids–would go on half-day summer adventures around our neighborhood, which would take us a half a mile, or a whole mile away from our homes.

We’d sneak behind the fences of people’s backyards, into creek beds that snaked behind their homes. I have a vague memory of being lost in one of those creek beds, searching for tadpoles, and splashing in the shallow pools of the creek, getting all wet, but feeling terrific, because it was a long, hot summer day, and we were feeling amazingly free.
That was then. Some 20—okay 30—years ago.

Now, it’s 2009.

My son is 11, and we’re lucky enough to live in the same, safe Walnut Creek neighborhood in which I grew up. Perhaps, with my son at 11, I wouldn’t panic if he hooked up with some friend, and the two of them disappeared for a few hours–to go exploring around the neighborhood, even went trekking up and down those creekbeds behind people’s backyard fences…

Where it’s possible that Walnut Creek’s homeless now have their encampments…

Never mind.

Anyway, I read about the family of Sandra Cantu, being unaware of this 8-year-old’s whereabouts for three, four, five hours on a Friday afternoon and evening.

As a parent of a boy who was once eight and is now 11, I’m asking, WTF?

She was in second grade?

But wait! I’m not familiar with the layout of the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park in Tracy, where Sandra Cantu lived. Maybe it’s like the cul-de-sac of my youth, where kids wandered in and out of one another homes on school afternoons, on weekends, and on summer days.

Maybe the neighbors in Sandra’s neighborhood aren’t all the best of friends (like the residents of my childhood neighborhood) but they live close enough to one another to share a certain level of trust—and hope—that everyone will look out for one another’s kids.

What do you think?

15 thoughts on “Parents, even before Sandra Cantu’s kidnapping and murder, how much room did you give your kids to roam?

  1. my 6 and 8 year old do this. They go out to play, often in the same place with the same friends. My youngest has to check in every hour. My oldest usually heads to another friends house, exploring and doing boy adventures. He has a time he has to be in, but it usually extends a few hours. I am exactly how these parents are and yet we all say it will never happen to us. There are cell phones now to give your children to locate you when they go outside a specified zone. I’ve though of that. You just cant substitute good ole fashion parental supervision! But why don’t we do it, is it because I grew up in the 70’s and had a very safe neighbor as the OP stated? Do I feel that this wont happen to me? It could. Times have changed and my family has now changed! I will not allow this to happen in my house anymore. I will be that over protected parent that we often mumble to cut the umbilical cord about.


  2. I aim for a happy medium between allowing my growing kids freedom (which teaches responsibility), and being aware times are different than in my youth. Or are they? Child kidnappings, murders etc. make huge, gigantic media splashes, but statistically, these incidents are still very, very rare. Something I explain to my kids often. My 10-year-old has been hearing about the Sandra case. Last night I said this is a good chance to review the “stranger danger” things. We did; and today I’ll let him play on the block with neighbor kids, without super close supervision, but parental awareness — as he usually does.


  3. Along with what Anon 6:48 said, I could dig up the statistics and studies on stranger abductions, going back several decades, and Anon 6:48 is right. Stranger abductions of kids are rare. Just as rare as they were when I was a kid, wandering around the neighborhood with no close supervision. Also, kids are seldom victimized by strangers–as in the registered sex offender maybe living down the street. That’s why I think Megan’s Law gives the public a false sense of security. Usually, kids are abused, sexually or otherwise, by someone they know and someone the family trusts(stepparent, relative. And most abductions of kids are perpetrated by non-custodial parents. That’s the way it has been for decades. What has changed is our perceptions, in the wake of intense media focus on cases, from Amber Swartz, Michaela Garecht, Ilene Misheloff, Polly Klaas, to Sandra Cantu.My first reaction upon hearing that Sandra was unsupervised for several hours that Friday afternoon was, “what was her family thinking … a child that age … to wait until 8 to call the police.” (Unfortunately, for the family, I’m betting that the terrible things that happened to Sandra happened during those first few hours that she was unaccounted for.) And then I remembered how things were when I was that age. I would have told my mom I was going across the street to play, and that would have been enough for her; she knew the parents of the home I was heading to, and knew that the mom would be home. I’d be gone for hours, and then would end up back home at suppertime. With my own son, when he was 8, I would have monitored him more closely than my mother had monitored me. But that has nothing to do with me being a more attentive parent or any increased danger, in these supposedly more dangerous times for kids (which they are not). That has more to do with my heightened sense of fear.


  4. Ever since Kevin Collins was taken from a San Francisco street corner, I have been repulsed at the shear thought that people engage in this type of conduct. It truely leaves a sour feeling in my stomach.Over the years I have seen so many of these stories unfold in the media and I just can’t fathom why people have just not learned from all this.It’s the old “it will never happen to me or my family” mentality.For those parents that keep a tight leash on their kids I congradulate you. There is no safe havens and has not been for the last few decades. It’s a sad commentary on our way of life here in this country.I literally beleive that you should put GPS Trackers on your kids to take the guess work out of all this and actually start to turn the tide of these heneous crimes.As far as punishment is concerned, I would have no problem with public hangings – televised!One day trial – Next day execution.No more media circus’s and lawyers ringing their hands for long drawn out trials and prison sentences. It’s a waste of public money.


  5. Soccer Mom, thanks for not sensationalizing this tragedy, and for struggling against the knee-jerk reaction to hold our kids closer. The one downfall from the advancements in communication technology is the perception that people have that these tragedies happen every day, in every neighborhood. If you’re going to be afraid of such events, never leave your house. But that’s not safe either: a plane might fall on your house (which has happened three times in the last year in three different parts of the country).


  6. Bent Spoon,Thanks for your comment, and for giving me an idea for another possible post: digging out those statistics on stranger abduction and child victimization. I had them at my fingertips at some point recently. There are even some surprising statistics on sex offenders… There’s a common idea that sex offenders ALWAYS reoffend. In researching a story on sex offenders several years ago, I came across some interesting information–from the Department of Justice, I believe–that says that sex offenders don’t reoffend at higher rates than offenders of non-sexual crimes. As a reporter, I covered one of the Bay Area child abductions. Covering that case, and reading about the others, definitely gave me pause when we decided, when my son was in fourth grade to let him walk to school by himself. We live TWO BLOCKS from the school, and in a safe neighborhood. But me, with my heightened fears about stranger danger, I couldn’t help but imagine the man in the van, or the weird guy in the house, luring him inside … Any fears for his safety should have been better directed on him getting hit by one of the cars trying to go in and out of his school. I was walking too and from school by myself when I was in FIRST grade. Meanwhile, it was JUST this past Halloween that I let my son and his friend go out by themselves, on Halloween night, in the block around our street. And I had him take my cell phone. When I didn’t hear from them after an hour, I called. Good parenting or paranoid parenting: I’m not sure.


  7. Our children are more likely to be victimized by someone they know (even a family member!) than by a stranger. Our kids are in far more danger at church, school, and at soccer practice.


  8. I don’t know if anyone remembers Michaela Garecht, the Hayward girl kidnapped from a local store.The Garecht family lived in my neighborhood and my older brothers were good friends with Robert Garecht. Rodney (aka Rod) Garecht is Robert’s older brother.We lived in a regular working-class neighborhood, and the Garechts were such nice people. I couldn’t believe that it happened to them.


  9. Hi again. I just noticed that you had posted about Michaela.My mom went back to nursing when I was 10 years old. I am the fourth of four children. My responsibilities were to come home and do my homework and any chores left for me. After that, I was FREE! I would leave a note that I went out to play and had to be back at dinnertime.I could go over someone’s house if I left a note with the parent(s) name(s) and phone number.I’m sure we had stranger abductions back then. We didn’t hear about them 1) because we were much less populated then, and 2) the media didn’t have the real-time, at-your-fingertips access that we have now.


  10. I remember Michaela Garecht. I had a paper route then, The Daily Review. I remember the store, the area, the sorrow in the town. Hayward was never the same. God Bless the little girl.


  11. Anna,Did you live in Hayward? I lived in San Leandro. I think they still have the Daily Review.I was a little kid when my brothers used to hang out with Robert Garecht. The mom was Madge. We lived in a very small neighborhood and were friendly with the Garechts.I never knew Rod or his wife, but we were all stunned when Michaela was abducted.


  12. Murdered kids…tortured..raped…killed…it’s not a suburb in California, it’s the entire country. I remember thinking many years ago when Jimmy Rice/Miami was killed (under 10, waiting at a bus-stop, kidnapped, murdered), when will the next one be? Since then, what’s changed? …faster law-enforcement reaction, better tracking,more computers, GPS,amber-alerts, more-alert-aware parents, etc. Most of the latter are for after-the-fact and parents can’t be with their kids 100% of the time and still let the kids be kids.So, the murders-kidnappings continue.I think, that it’s time that we had special-harsher courts ONLY for crimes against any and all children (pick a max. age)..faster judicial system for these cases, special legislation, tougher sentences,separate judges, etc so that say, a murder of an 8 year-old, doesnt get wattered down and diluted in lengthy time-frames in the court system. The bad guys are gaining…an amber-alert deters no one, it just helps out in a faster response. We need deterrence to help solve the problem and right now there is none whatsoever.Our judicial system is so slow that even after a conviction, many family-members of victims just hope that other inmates “take care” of the criminal because of the lengthy appeals etcYes, special courts for violent-crimes-against-children might require a change in laws, but, very necessary.What happened to my neighbour can happen to any of us, whether son, daughter, grandson, foster-care parent, or whomever.So, we need to change our entire system, so whether in Walnut Creek Ca. or Redlands Fl. or wherever, our kids can be safer than now. The anser is not to protect ourselves more only, not enough. Legislation and punishments must be brought up-to-date…to prevalent right now. Murdered/kidnapped/tortured/raped children is an epidemic, rampant, crisis, TODAY..and been so for decades. We must do more to safeguard our children.


  13. Just heard on KCBS that Melissa Huckaby (the pastor’s granddaughter) has been arrested for the murder of Sandra Cantu. (And a poster on another site claims that Huckaby accidentally ran over Cantu, freaked out over the accident, and hid Sandra’s body with the help of her boyfriend. I don’t know if authorities are also saying that.)


  14. Please you people are crazy! I was born in 1968, and by no means was it as bad as it is in this day and age! I watched the news when I was younger and I heard my parents talking about things as this happening and it DID NOT happen as frequently as it does now. My youngest is 16 and she still isn’t allowed to go anywhere alone, much less if she were 8, that is just pure madness! What is wrong with parents these days? My mom NEVER let me roam streets alone and I am very responsible and I have no mental problems! Just remember if you let your children roam alone and something happens to them..YOU ARE AT FAULT, and you must live with the guilt!


  15. No point in looking at how things were in the 60’s plus the fact that now we have 24/7 cable news(many channels) reporting which amplifies everything compared to decades ago (positive, not much under-the-rug or in-the-closet).
    We must look at our present reality and better it, period…regardless of what happened in the 50’s,60’s,70’s or whatever. We CAN ACT on present reality , not on past. Learn from the past? sure, but we cant go-back, we are here in 2009 . Today or very soon we will have another of our children kidnapped and/or murdered (Fox/CNN/MSNBC/Grace/Geraldo/Oreilly will give good-immediate coverage)…this is what we have to solve and keep these crimes to a minimum.Tom, Miami Fl.


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