• U.S.

Person of the Week: Erica Pratt

3 minute read
Mark Coatney

In this unsettled summer, with its bear market in stocks and bull market in terror warnings, every bit of bad news resonates tenfold. And while there hasn’t been any real increase in the number of child abductions it certainly seems that way, with the images of Danielle Van Dam, Elizabeth Smart and Samantha Runnion on every TV screen and the nights filled with the sound of mothers weeping for their children because they are not.

Runnion and Van Dam were taken and brutally murdered; Smart stolen from her home and still missing. Those girls, white, middle-class and taken from neighborhoods where those kinds of things don’t happen, you’ve heard of them. But you probably wouldn’t have heard of Erica Pratt, a seven-year-old kidnapped from a sidewalk near her home Monday night, because she is from a neighborhood where those kinds of things happen, or at least where we think they do; the area of Southwest Philadelphia where she lives is a poor place where drug-dealing is common. You wouldn’t have heard from her except for this: She got away. And so, as a reminder that not all abductions end in tears, Erica Pratt is our Person of the Week.

The story: Erica was held for one long night and day in the basement of an empty house, her hands and feet bound with duct tape. She chewed through the tape, kicked open a basement door and made her way to a window where she screamed until someone heard her and came to her rescue. The little girl was plucky, but also lucky. The motive for the kidnapping was not sexual but financial; her abductors asked for a $150,000 ransom, perhaps believing a false neighborhood rumor that Erica’s family had received that sum as a life insurance payment after her uncle was shot and killed last month. Police Thursday arrested James Burns and Edward Johnson in connection with the kidnapping.

For parents wondering if it’s safe to let their kids even leave the living room without supervision, the most reassuring part of Erica’s story is that, faced with a situation in which many adults would panic, she kept her head and saved herself. In the end, maybe the best defense you can give your kids is not a blind fear of strangers but rather instilling self-assurance and presence of mind. “I have 21 years in the Police Department,” said Philadelphia Police Inspector William Colarulo, “and I have never seen this kind of heroic act of bravery committed by a 7-year-old.” Neither have we.

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