Three incidents of kids being approached by strangers within a week in the Grand Bend area prompted a rare warning to parents to talk to their children about safety, an OPP spokesperson says.
“They’re fairly similar in nature, but we don’t believe they’re related,” Const. Jamie Bydeley said Wednesday.
Lambton OPP took a rare step Tuesday night by issuing a cryptic warning for residents and visitors in the Grand Bend area to speak to their children about staying away from strangers. Police also urged parents and caregivers to keep a “watchful eye” on younger children and asked teens and young adults to travel in groups.
But no details were released about the complaints made between July 18 and July 24 in Grand Bend and at nearby Pinery Provincial Park. Bydeley said he couldn’t provide any more information about the alleged incidents, specific locations or the ages of the children.
“From what we’ve seen so far, there was a bit of an age range there,” he said. “There wasn’t a specific demographic.”
The warning came as Grand Bend and the Pinery gear up for a long weekend and an influx of campers, cottagers and day visitors.
Lambton Shore Mayor Bill Weber said he hasn’t heard from any residents worried about the police warning, but added it’s a “good thing” for parents to be aware of. “It’s a good reminder.”
Both Weber and Bydeley said they weren’t aware of any recent similar complaints or public warnings in the area.
But police throughout the region have issued similar cautions in recent months. London police urged parents to talk with their children about not accepting rides from strangers this past September after a gap-toothed man driving a van allegedly tried to tempt a teenage girl with candy. Around the same time, Woodstock police asked parents to keep an eye on their children and not let them near strangers after a suspicious man approached two children playing in a town park.
A trio of complaints in just seven days prompted Lambton OPP to send out a related warning with the August long weekend on the horizon.
“Due to the similarity of these all happening within the same timeframe, we just thought it’d be a good reminder for people to put out that public safety message,” Bydeley said.
Pietro Ciasullo, who was at the main beach Wednesday along with his wife and seven-year-old daughter, said “absolutely” it’s a concern for any family visiting the area.
The mayor said the provincial park has been “quite busy” and the beach and main strip in Grand Bend has been “at capacity” during periods of good weather since the arrival of the third step of Ontario’s reopening plan that loosened restrictions on outdoor gatherings and indoor dining.
“People are still doing the best they can at social distancing,” he added.
Grand Bend still has “minor” COVID-19 restrictions, according to the village’s website, but its 40 kilometres of beaches, shops and restaurants are open. Its north beach at the west end of Main Street is “full of young sun worshipers,” the website states.
The Pinery, a 2,532-hectare park featuring 1,000 campsites and 10 kilometres of beach, this week announced they’ve sold 75 per cent of available day-use reservations. Mark Custers, the Pinery’s superintendent, and other staff at the provincial park did not respond to multiple interview requests as of Wednesday night.
The two sites are separated by about eight kilometres.
Police said the investigation is ongoing and Bydeley added updates will be issued if more details become available. Anyone who may have information is asked to call the OPP at 1-888-310-1122.
“There may be some people, they’ll think back and say, ‘Yeah, that was strange. Why was that happening?’ Or why someone approached that wasn’t normal,” Weber said. “Maybe you think twice about that.”