During a shopping trip at IKEA, Diandra Toyos, a mother of three, felt that something was off. She was browsing the store with her mother and three children (a four-year-old, a one-and-a-half-year-old, and a seven-week-old) when she began getting a “gut feeling” that something was not right.
As Toyos and her family navigated the store, she began noticing a man who was watching them from a nearby corner. “I noticed a well-dressed, middle-aged man circling the area, getting closer to me and my kids. At one point he came right up to me and the boys, and instinctively I put myself between [him] and my mobile son,” Toyos explained.
The man did not stop there. He continued circling the area, occasionally picking something up but continuing to maintain a visual of her children. At the same time, Toyos “noticed another man dressed more casually and in his 20s” also circling the area.
Toyos and her mother decided to sit down until the men passed. Alarmingly, the two men sat down as well in a display room directly facing the family.
The older man was still watching us,” Toyos recalled. Toyos then “made eye contact … very clearly letting them know we saw them. And we moved on.” Finally, the family managed to lose the two stalking predators. They reported what had happened to security, and Toyos kept an extra watchful eye on her children for the rest of the trip.
After this eerie experience, Toyos feels certain that her family had a terrifyingly close encounter. She said, “I am almost sure that we were the targets of human trafficking. This is happening all over, including [in] the United States. It’s in our backyards. I’m reading more and more about these experiences and it’s terrifying. If not that, something else shady was obviously going on. Either way, as parents, we need to be aware.”
Toyos pointed out a few key descriptors of the men. These include her observations that they were well-dressed, they were not waiting for anyone, and that they did not talk to anyone. Toyos mentions how she instinctively smiled at the older man once he got close, to which he responded by instantly looking away.
Lastly, the two men remained near an exit. “They could have run out that exit with my [children] and handed them off to someone waiting outside and been gone before I could find them,” Toyos stated, shaken by the thought.
This mother of three has a final important message for parents: “Please, please be aware when you’re out with your children. It’s not the time to be texting or Facebooking or chatting on the phone. When you’re in a public place with your kids, please be aware and present so that you don’t become a victim. Had I not been paying attention that day … or had I let my kids roam and play while I checked my phone … I may have lost one. The thought just makes me completely ill. Especially because I’ve been guilty of this!”
One would think that in a space as public as a furniture store, such occurrences are extremely rare. However, this may not be the case, and happy endings such as Toyos’ may not happen as frequently as we would hope. Keep your eyes open, and keep your family safe by remembering that even public spaces can house people with darker intentions.
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