When school officials are told of a potential threat to their students, they need to notify the parents of these students immediately. Not in 10 days, and not only after police have verified the authenticity of the threat. Immediately.
In Missoula, fortunately, it is not every day that a student reports being accosted by an adult male on her way to school. On Nov. 9, three C.S. Porter Middle School students recounted how a young man with dark, curly hair grabbed one of them by her backpack but left empty-handed when her sisters came to her aid.
They gave a detailed description of the man and his car, which they had seen around the Clark Street neighborhood. This description matches that of a suspect who was charged earlier this month with raping one woman in downtown Missoula and sexually assaulting another. Joshua Jeremy Peltier, 21, is also being charged with attempted kidnapping and two counts of robbery, among other felonies.
Despite the fact that this incident was reported to police and to officials at C.S. Porter, nobody alerted the parents of C.S. Porter students. Finally, the mother of the three girls realized that the police did not intend to make the information public and contacted Principal Gail Chandler, who sent out a letter to parents a full 10 days after the incident occurred.
Why did it take so long? Other parents might have been able to share any suspicious activity they had noted in their neighborhoods, or asked their children if they had noticed anything unusual on the way to and from school - and that information might have helped the police in their investigation.
At the very least, it would have encouraged more parents to keep a closer eye on their kids, and talk to their children about potential dangers so that they would not become the next victims.
Hopefully, if there are any other victims out there now, any other people who may have been followed or grabbed by a man matching Peltier's description, anyone else with any additional information - they will come forward and share their experience with police.
Meanwhile, Missoula schools would do well to use this incident to examine their approach to notifying parents when something like this happens to one of their students. They need to make sure that parents have the opportunity to protect their children against potential threats, and the best way parents can do that is to be fully armed with information.