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Talking About Tiffany

She disappeared 10 years before my oldest daughter was born, but Tiffany Sessions became a household name for us last week, when police fingered a dead serial killer as the murderer of the University of Florida student.

I’ve been horrified about the details of this case since I first moved to Florida in the early 1990s. Still, all those years don’t numb the cold dread in my stomach when I consider the quote from Tiffany’s mom at a press conference outside a swampy, wooded field on the south side of Gainesville, where police searched for her 20-year-old’s body.

“Did you find any piece of evidence of Tiffany back there?” Hilary Sessions asked police. 

When I drove my 12-year-old to theater practice after school that day, those words still haunted me. 

“What would you do if somebody tried to grab you?” I asked her. “What if he claimed to have a gun and told you he’d hurt you if you didn’t come?”

We’ve been through this scenario before, but, frankly, not enough.

Although I know the chances are slim that my child could be abducted, I don’t want her to think twice about what to do. 

Fight. Scream. Kick. Bite.

Even if the other person has a knife or gun, do whatever it takes to resist. And whatever you do, don’t get in his car.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children agrees. Unlike "stranger danger" campaigns of the 1980s, which didn’t really equip kids with how to react, the focus now is on teaching how to fight back. 

"Twenty years ago we would have told kids to do what the [abductor] says and wait for someone to come help you," Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, told Time magazine. "We now say fight, scream, kick, bite, use whatever tools you have to attract attention to yourself."

And because Tiffany was last seen on her usual exercise route – a 1 ½-mile loop down Gainesville’s main street to a small dirt trail that cut into the woods – we talk again about avoiding routine, walking with your head up, paying attention to your surroundings at all times. 

My motherly instincts have kicked into first gear with the revival of this cold case. I don’t want to scare my daughters, but I do want their instincts to be strong, swift and sure. 

Have you had these talks with your kids? Or am I the only paranoid one?