Police and school officials in Urbana and Champaign are warning parents after several reports of strangers approaching students this week.
However, it turns out that two incidents involving an Urbana Middle School student Monday and Tuesday were a misunderstanding, said Urbana Middle School Principal Scott Woods.
The school alerted parents Wednesday about a sport utility vehicle approaching a student on Michigan Avenue.
As a result of those messages to parents, the driver of that vehicle talked with the student's family, and as it turns out, it was not an attempted abduction.
"It is still very important that families have ongoing conversations with students about issues of stranger danger and safe walking and biking routes to school," Woods said in a new note to parents Thursday.
Urbana's Deputy Police Chief Sylvia Morgan had preliminary information about two other incidents police were looking into.
One involved a 14-year-old girl who was walking home on Philo Road near Michigan Avenue about 10:20 p.m. Tuesday from an Urbana Middle School basketball game.
Morgan said the girl reported that a man ran up to her and grabbed her shirt. She screamed and he ran away. The teen said only that he was about 6 feet tall but gave no other description.
In the other incident, Morgan said preliminary information was that between 7 and 8 a.m. Wednesday, a person in a blue van approached a 7-year-old boy near Beslin and Wright streets and asked if the child wanted a ride. Morgan said the child ignored the inquiry and kept walking.
The van followed him for about a block, according to her early information.
Champaign police received a report Wednesday of a man who reportedly approached a 12-year-old girl in the 1200 block of North Neil Street as she was traveling to school on Wednesday.
According to Champaign police spokeswoman Rene Dunn, the man asked the girl if she would stop and talk with him and if she wanted a ride. He also asked where she was going.
Police said the man was in a bluish-purple, older model passenger van, with lettering on the side of the van, both above the windows and alongside the bottom of the van.
The lettering on the top contained writing resembling the letters "Hilliton," Dunn said.
Police described the man as an older black male with salt and pepper hair with a gray mustache.
"The Champaign Police Department is working closely with the Unit 4 school district to address all reports made of children being approached by unknown adults," Dunn said in a written release.
The Urbana school district is asking parents to talk with their children about strangers and safety, and reiterated safety tips for students and parents on its website.
Tips for students include:
— Check with an adult before going anywhere with anyone, especially someone you do not know. Do not walk with or accept a ride with a stranger, no matter what they offer you.
— Trust your instincts. It is OK to say no, even to an adult. If a stranger approaches, you do not have to talk to them. If something feels wrong or unsafe, it probably is.
— Run. If a stranger tries to get you into a car, run, kick, yell or scream to get the attention of others. Most adults will stop for a child in trouble.
— Remember information about the vehicle (license plate number, color, bumper stickers, etc.) and report this information right away.
— Tell a trusted adult.
The school district's tips for parents include:
— Avoid displaying the child's name on clothes or other personal items.
— Create a unique family "code word" only you and your child know.
— Show children how to use a phone (both cell and land-line) and remind them that 911 calls are free and can be dialed from any cell or pay phone.
— Teach children to avoid walking outdoors with headphones on, which can prevent them from hearing someone coming up from behind.
— Explain to children that walking in groups is the best way to travel. This includes going to and from school.
— Remind children not to assist strangers with providing directions, finding lost pets, or other requests.
— Do not wait to call police.
If you need to report a non-emergency incident or a suspicious person in your area, contact the METCAD non-emergency number: 217-333-8911.
Citizens can also contact Crimestoppers at 217-373-TIPS, online at http://www.373tips.com or by texting Tip397 plus the information to CRIMES (274637).