Terrifying Incident at Fast Food Play Area Reinforces Parental Fears

McDonald's play landAs a mother and writer who covers parenting news, I come across plenty of horrific stories. Some I can't bring myself to even read in full because they're so disturbing and haunting; and sometimes it seems the last thing we need is more depressing news, more fear. Then there are stories that make me recoil in horror and fear, but I know we need to know about them as parents to prevent them from happening to our own children. This is one of those stories.

At a McDonald's last month in southern Ohio, a 5-year-old girl was raped by a 13-year-old boy. Right there in the play area, while people sat nearby eating Big Macs.


Fortunately, pictures of the suspect were released, and his parents brought him to police the following day where he was charged with one count of rape. While it doesn't ease the trauma of the girl at all, at least his parents were brave enough to make him accountable for his actions. As a parent I can't imagine how difficult that would have been, but good for them for doing so. He's clearly a troubled young man, but it's this little girl who I can't stop thinking about. 

There are plenty of reasons I have always tried (not always successfully) to avoid fast food play areas, but never could I have imagined something as horrifying as this. It's unfathomable that no one could have known, no one could have seen, no one could have helped this poor innocent girl who was one minute playing and the next in the middle of a nightmare. Nothing anyone can do can change what happened there, and it will affect for her for her entire life. It's beyond unfair and completely terrifying.

She was apparently visiting the restaurant with her grandmother around 9 p.m., and you have to wonder where she was while this happened. But some of those play areas contain mazes and tubes, and perhaps she was right there, just unaware of what was happening. It's difficult to believe it could happen like that, but not entirely impossible.

And that's the thing about this story -- it could happen anywhere. Anywhere it's loud or busy, and we take our eyes off of our children for just a couple of minutes. And we all do it. We start chatting with a friend, or chasing another child, or get lost in our iPhone ... even just for a few minutes. At 5 there's a certain level of trust, a degree of laid-back nature to parenting as opposed to when you have a toddler and know you can't ever relax. I recently rejoiced when I realized I was a "park bench" mom again, meaning I can finally sit down at the park instead of following my older toddler around to every piece of equipment. But this shows us we have to remain vigilant no matter how safe we think their environment, no matter how much we think we know where they are or what they'd do in a certain situation, no matter how much we think we're being paranoid or overprotective. We don't want to live in fear, and shouldn't have to, but honestly with stories like this, I don't know how we can't.

Do you let your children play in fast food play areas? Will this story change that?

Image via dno1967b/Flickr

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