A 12-year-old Rim Country Middle School student narrowly escaped a potential abduction Wednesday in the school parking lot.
The seventh-grader was approached while she was waiting for a ride home shortly after 7 p.m. She had attended a volleyball game at Payson High School and walked to the middle school to call her parents from a phone outside the gym.
A man driving a "junky" black van pulled into the school parking lot and asked the girl if she needed a ride. When told that she was waiting for a ride, the man got out of the van and approached her.
"He told her he had some money and would take her to get something to eat and then he would drive her home," RCMS Principal Frank Larby said in an e-mail sent to parents Friday. "She saw a vehicle driving on Meadow Street and quickly said that was her dad coming to pick her up."
The man took off, driving south on Meadow Street.
Both Larby and Lt. Don Engler of the Payson Police Department praised the student for keeping her wits about her and telling the man her father was in the approaching vehicle.
"This girl used some good creative thinking to avert a situation," Larby said.
Once the girl was safely home, her parents called the police. She described the man as 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighing about 200 pounds, with a black beard and dark skin. He was wearing a dark red ball cap with a logo and writing on the front, a white T-shirt with holes, blue jeans with holes in the knees and brown work boots. He also was wearing a silver necklace and carrying a wallet attached to a chain. The girl described the van as an all black panel van with tinted windows. It was damaged on the passenger side by the door.
The license plate on the van had yellow and orange colors on it. There was a dog in the van, but no passengers were visible. Engler said police responded immediately.
"We spent about an hour and a half trying to locate that vehicle," he said. "We also looked at some leads that evening, but none of those have panned out at this point."
Thursday, Police Officer Steve Montgomery talked to several students at the middle school who said they also thought they had been followed recently.
Both Larby and Engler advised parents to be very cautious about allowing their children to get into similar situations, and, at the very least, to talk to them about being careful.
"The biggest thing," Larby said, "is to be aware of where your kids are, know what they're doing, and always tell them to be careful (that) even though we're in a small town, you have to be on your toes and look out for your personal safety."