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      Keep your kids safe from "stranger danger"

      In the wake of the murder of a 10 year-old Springfield girl, Captain John Wheeler of the Cole County Sheriff said now is a good time to speak with your children about staying safe when they're outside.

      Less than a week after 10 year-old Hailey Owens was allegedly kidnapped and murdered by a man that police say she didn't know, parents in Jefferson City are on edge for the safety of their children.

      "I do have a daughter that's 10 and goes to school and stuff like that. It hit home pretty hard for me," said Jefferson City resident Nick Baker. "Mostly just because it's a daughter of that age and that a father would lose someone like that in their life, so it's very devastating to me. I think it's really impacted our family."

      Baker said now as before, keeping his daughter safe is his top priority. He said that he has taken some extra time to speak with his daughter about staying safe while playing outside.

      Although simply keeping children inside might seem to be the solution, Captain John Wheeler of the Cole County Sheriff's Office said your children should not be confined and do not have to be, as long as you take the right steps to teach them out to be safe.

      Wheeler said some simple things to teach your children include:

      - Always have your children tell you where they are going and when they will be back. They should also let you know if they go somewhere else or are going to return late.

      - Children should not walk alone unless absolutely necessary, and should make every attempt to walk with a friend.

      - Children should not take shortcuts through the woods, a back street, or an empty lot.

      - Make sure your children only play in safe areas, not empty buildings or other dangerous places.

      - Know who your children's friends are, where they live, and how to get in touch with them.

      - Never leave a small child alone, even for just a few minutes.

      - Make sure your child knows how to reach you in an emergency.

      Wheeler said stranger-child abductions like Hailey's in Springfield are rare. However, he said one of the most important things to teach your child is that if they think something is wrong, that they should go with their gut.

      "You know that whenever you are talking to someone, whether you're at a situation or some place, when something inside is just telling you 'this is wrong'," Wheeler said. "Your brain has actually picked something up and it just hasn't perceived exactly what it is. However, you should listen to those feelings."