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Kidnapping & Cultural Awareness: Life Lessons Learned at the Grand Canyon

Kidnapping & Cultural Awareness: Life Lessons Learned at the Grand Canyon

I’ll never forget the ice-cold terror that flowed through my veins when a woman grabbed my five-year-old child at the Grand Canyon this summer. It was every parent’s nightmare and it was happening right before my eyes.

Or so I thought.

Sam was right behind us the entire time.

The brashness of it was extremely unsettling. Sam had been standing directly behind my father-in-law’s mobility scooter, within touching distance of his parents, grandparents and several siblings. It’s unbelievable to me that this situation unfolded just inches from his entire family.

We were all looking over the railing, gawking at the huge chasm that is the Canyon. It really is a marvelous sight, you know.

I stepped back to take a photo of the family and realized that Sam wasn’t in the frame. My eyes darted frantically around, searching for him… and found him, a few feet away, tightly wrapped in the arms of a woman who was intent on keeping him still.

I didn’t know this woman. She appeared to be about twice my age. She was slightly shorter than me and did not seem to speak English. She was in a group of three women. One was trying to take a picture and the other stood behind the woman who was wrestling my son.

As soon as I made eye contact and took one step toward her, she dropped my son like a hot potato. Her group quickly left the area before I could even explain to my family what had happened.

The entire situation probably took only seconds but it felt like an eternity to me. I can still feel the ice-cold terror that ran through my veins and the strange sense that everything was happening in slow motion.

My first thought was about human trafficking.

My kids have been taught a lot about human trafficking and stranger safety. We always have a buddy system and we are very careful to stay together when we travel.

Sam was right behind Pompa’s scooter when she grabbed him. He was on the outside edge of our group, but we were all there together.

I’m aware of the dangers that exist. I thought that awareness alone would keep my family safe. Having seen someone so easily grab one of my children away from our group, I have realized that even my careful precautions are not enough.

Anyway, I posted about this on social media shortly after it happened and many of my friends recommended calling the park rangers. I didn’t see much point, since there were so many people in the park and we’d lost sight of her fairly quickly… but I did.

What I learned from that conversation taught me a great deal about cultural differences.

It turns out it wasn’t about kidnapping at all.

The park ranger asked me to describe the perpetrator. I carefully avoided any racial descriptors because I did not want to offend anyone.

The Ranger, however, had no such qualms. “Ma’am, I need you to answer this question. Was she Asian?”

I reluctantly confirmed that was what I suspected. The Ranger laughed a little and informed me that this was actually a fairly common occurrence.

“Some cultures have different boundaries,” he informed me. “It’s fairly common for people from those cultures to take pictures with children who have blonde or red hair because it’s so unfamiliar. She was probably just trying to take a picture with your kid.”

Although this was a foreign concept to me, I was able to confirm that this is a fairly common phenomena. There are many posts about it and even some of my friends had personal anecdotes about it.

In fact, I love this sentiment from Caz at the YTravel blog: “There was nothing sinister about the Asians stealing our babies. They were just purely enamored with my little angels. It’s a shame in the West we have become so hardened and suspicious.”

Be aware of the risks when you travel to popular destinations.

The Grand Canyon is obviously a major international tourist destination. We made the mistake of visiting in early July and it was packed.

If you are going to travel to popular destinations that attract international travelers, it is definitely helpful to be aware of other social customs. In our case, I would’ve been spared a lot of panic if I had realized that my son’s bright hair and blue eyes would be as interesting to some people as the Grand Canyon was to me.

Honestly, I’m glad this happened to us because 2019 was our first year of truly adventurous travel. It has given me a lot to consider as we plan our future trips!