An 11-year-old girl is safe at home after she reportedly demanded a "code word" from a strange man who approached her near a park in San Tan Valley, just outside of Phoenix, the Pinal County Sheriff's Office said.
According to a Facebook post by department officials, the 11-year-old girl was walking with a friend Wednesday afternoon when a man in a white SUV pulled up next to them. The man told the girl that her brothers had gotten into a serious accident, and that he was there to pick her up and take her to them.
However, instead of getting in the vehicle with the stranger, the girl asked the man for a 'code word' - or prearranged word that she and her parents had come up with in case someone else needed to pick her up in an emergency.
When the man couldn't tell her the code word, he drove away, the sheriff's office said.
The vehicle is described as a SUV similar to a Ford Explorer. The suspect is described as a white male, with a short beard and possibly in his 40s. The man was covering most of his face with his hand while he was speaking with the girl.
Police say children in the neighborhood have reported seeing the SUV circling around the park several times a day. The Pinal County Sheriff's office praised the 11-year-old girl's quick thinking, and said the parents did the right thing by teaching her to have the code word ready.
“Kudos to the parents of this child for having a code word and talking ... to their children about stranger danger,” Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb said.
“We hope by putting this out, it will encourage parents to have that conversation and create a plan with their children, so they know what to do if they are in that situation.”
Anyone with any information about the case is being asked to call the Pinal County Sheriff's Office at 520-866-5111.