By Anita Tedaldi: CNJ columnist
I try not to judge someone when I first meet them, but I couldn’t help myself when I saw this man at my neighbor’s daughter’s birthday party. He looked scary.
The neighbor introduced him as an ‘uncle.’ He had long white hair in a pony tail, blue eyes and a stench of alcohol that I smelled the moment I entered my neighbor’s living room. Throughout the party he consumed several drinks, beer, wine and I think whiskey.
Despite my efforts to keep an open mind, I felt that this “uncle” embodied creepy. He seemed to stare at the children in an intense, not-normal way. At one point he even tried to engage my 2-year-old, but I stepped in front of him and moved her away.
Apparently I wasn’t the only mom who felt uneasy, because another mom came over and we commented on how “strange” the “uncle” seemed. I wanted to get this man’s name, so I eventually asked my neighbor for his uncle’s name, pretending that I thought I recognized him from somewhere (the Most Wanted list). The neighbor gave me the name, apparently unaware of the uneasiness around this “uncle” of his, and I wrote it down on a piece of paper.
I didn’t talk to the “uncle” except for one brief exchange when he told me he had a rifle, and that he’d love to shoot a bear that had been spotted in the area a few days ago.
I didn’t respond but hoped that the cake and presents would come soon so we could leave. Finally the children sang, we had cake, the little girl opened her presents and we made it out of the party. When I got home I immediately checked the uncle’s name in a sexual offenders database.
His name was there. He was and still is a sexual predator.
I was shocked. I know that I must’ve met sexual offenders before, without knowing it, but to see it there on the Web site and know that my children and I were so close to him was chilling.
I told my daughters they couldn’t play at the neighbor’s home anymore. The little girl was always welcome to come at our house, but not the other way around.
I was afraid this man would ask where we lived and try to hurt me or my children, and I compulsively checked my home alarm system, the doors and windows.
Sexual offenders live among us, and while once they’re release from prison they’re free individuals, these predators are often repeat offenders. I hope they can find help and be reinserted in society, but I’m not willing to test if they’re functional by having them around children.
I’m grateful for the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the amendment of May 17, 1996, and the many provisions (different for each state) that allow me to check a sexual offender’s whereabouts and to take precautions to protect my family.
Most states have registries, and while they have discretion as to how much information they share, the names are there. Here are two helpful Web sites if you need to check your area:
Anita Tedaldi is a freelance writer, mother of five and wife of an Air Force pilot. Contact her at: email@example.com