Every parent’s worst nightmare became Barry Rungeling’s reality when he arrived home from work Jan. 5.
His daughter Kaitlyn was nowhere to be found. Clothes had been removed from her dresser and her phone was dead.
“I was freaking,” he said. “I was ready to go anywhere I thought she could be.”
Rungeling began canvassing malls around the city. He contacted the police, family and friends — anyone who might have clues on his daughter’s whereabouts.
Tips poured in that Kaitlyn was spending time with a 20-year-old male who had befriended her on Facebook after the two met through a friend roughly a year prior.
Rungeling’s search led him to Cache Creek, British Columbia, where the 20-year-old was believed to have previously lived.
“I went banging on doors like a cop,” he said. “The people in this town were incredible. They flipped that town upside down when I showed them a picture of my little girl.”
At the same time, Rungeling was fielding inquiries from concerned people across Canada and even in the U.S. willing to assist in the search. Ironically, a Facebook page was set up to help find Kaitlyn, and Rungeling said support flooded in.
“It was the best of Faceboook and the worst of Facebook at the same time,” he said.
Finally, five days after she was reported missing, Kaitlyn was taken into police custody at a southwest Calgary residence.
Rungeling said police told him they used the male’s phone to track his location.
Looking back, Kaitlyn said she didn’t know what she was in for when agreeing to stay at the male’s house. She said in recent months the two had grown quite close online, noting he often told her she was beautiful and referred to her as his “baby girl.”
During the day, Kaitlyn said she and the male didn’t do much, besides “watch TV and go for walks.” At night, she slept on the floor because there was only one bedroom at the residence.
Kaitlyn said she was never harmed during the ordeal, but felt, “frustrated, scared.”
When asked why she didn’t attempt the leave, Kaitlyn responded, “I didn’t know where I was or how I would get anywhere.
“He took advantage of me being open and trusting,” she added.
A police spokesperson said no charges have been laid in the matter, but said a male was arrested at the residence on unrelated warrants.
Rungeling offered a stern warning to parents whose kids are using social media.
“They have too much freedom these days,” he said. “As parents, we need to be over their shoulders all the time to ensure things like this don’t happen.”
Tracey Warren, a safety expert with Calgary-based Child Safe Canada, said there is a “massive gap of knowledge” between today’s teenagers and parents when it comes to technology.
“What we are seeing is an incredible increase in access to the internet,” she said. “A lot of parents right now don’t even know the music gadgets they are buying their kids have Wi-Fi. Some don’t even know what Wi-Fi is.”
Warren advised parents to get informed about Internet safety using online resources and be prudent about the technology they are providing their children with.
“Parents have to have their kids understand that the Internet is a place, and tell them how they can be safe at that place,” she said. “We have got to talk to them openly about private information, recognizing threats and recognizing any potentially unsafe behaviour.”
Kaitlyn, said she is no longer friends with the male despite his attempts to re-establish contact with her and hopes to move on with her life.
“It’s better to be home,” she said. “It made me really appreciate what I have.”
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