of a series:
This is the first of a three-part series on crimes against children.
In part one, law enforcement officials from Whitley County as well as from state and federal agencies discuss the ongoing challenge of keeping America’s youth safe from the ever-present threat of child predators.
In parts two and three, The Post & Mail talks to the heartbroken parents of a murdered girl whose life was taken earlier this year.
COLUMBIA CITY — They have the effortless ability to finger paint a smile on the most despondent adult face using nothing more than a giggle.
They have wide-eyed amazement at things people much older take for granted.
Their innocent candor on issues from world affairs to where moth dust comes from can make the most cynical adult pine to be a kid again.
But the world’s children — the unwitting keepers of our planet’s future — are in constant danger from the evil, calculating members of adulthood’s seedy underworld.
Child safety advocates and members of law enforcement are not at a loss for advice and tips that could help prevent every parent’s worst-case scenario from coming true.
The last thing police want parents to do is think it couldn’t happen here.
And for a rural Whitley County couple, the nightmare every parent dreads became a stark reality in March of this year.
In the early morning hours of March 18, Whitko Middle School 8th-grader Kaylin Doggendorf was taken from her home.
Police say Joshua M. Wright of northeastern Kosciusko County admitted to breaking into the Doggendorfs’ basement, making his way to Kaylin’s bedroom and then later raping and killing her. He was 17 — Doggendorf, 14.
Doggendorf died from asphyxia due to strangulation and suffocation, according to the autopsy report.
A psychological evaluation is on-going on Wright, who is slated for trial in Whitley Circuit Court Jan. 25.
Doggendorf was missing for several days before Wright led police to her body.
It’s during those early hours and days of uncertainty that parents’ nerves are soap-bubble thin and those in charge of finding the victim are trying to bring their A-game.
“The FBI and state and local agencies work together to share resources and information to solve these sorts of crimes,” said Drew Northern, FBI spokesman from the bureau’s Indianapolis Division.
The ever-growing presence of the Internet has given predators of children one more tool by which to stalk their potential prey.
For that, Northern said the bureau’s Cyber-Crimes Task Force takes agency inter-cooperation to a new level.
“The FBI, with its state and local partners are working together to fight online predators and those who would exploit children,” Northern said.
Since the Internet boom of the mid-to-late 1990s, federal law enforcers have adapted to meet the demands of a new crime battlefield.
“The FBI’s been working on these matters since they began,” he said.
Northern called on parents to be proactive in helping to prevent their children from being victims of online predators.
“The biggest thing is knowing what your children are doing online,” he said.
Locally, advice to parents sounds much the same.
“Parents must monitor the activities of their children on any of the social networking websites and on their cell phones,” said Whitley County Sheriff Mark Hodges.
“Pertinent info should be obtained before allowing a child to spend the night with a friend.”
For the Doggendorfs, diligence and parental oversight weren’t enough.
“It’s not enough to know where your kids are and who they’re with but know the circle of friends too,” said Linbeth Doggendorf last week.
“That’s what it was. We know her friends. We know the small circle of friends. It was the extended circle of friends where he (Wright) was.”
Advances in cyberspace have given tools and tricks of the trade to soldiers on both sides of the war to make kids safe.
“The Internet has created a platform for the child molester to work easier,” said Whitley County Det. Chuck Vogely.
The Sheriff’s Department reported more than 20 crimes against children in 2010.
“Know your child’s passwords, check their e-mails, check the sites they visit, randomly check their cell phone,” said Vogely.
When county sheriff’s deputies arrived at the Doggendorfs in March, they checked the teenager’s computer, iPod and cell phone. The Doggendorfs said the police didn’t find anything embarrassing.
“It made us feel good that we raised her right,” said Linbeth.
Northern at the FBI office in Indianapolis said youngsters who put their picture out into cyberspace are asking for trouble.
“We encourage parents to know what websites their children are visiting and to talk to their children about not posting pictures of themselves online, not agreeing to face-to-face meetings and to not download pictures from an unknown source,” said Northern.
Northern also advises children to not give away personal information to someone online who they don’t know.
Northern added that the FBI’s Indianapolis Division is teaming up with the FBI Citizens Academy Alumni Association to create the bureau’s Safe Online Surfing Program, which helps raise awareness of online safety issues in schools throughout Indiana.
“It’s a new initiative, one that we’re just now ramping up,” Northern said.
Northern said programs such as the Safe Streets Task Force, which has a program in the Fort Wayne area, battle a variety of criminal issues such as gang violence and other criminal enterprise matters, “but they also work on crimes against children such as kidnapping,” he said.
When students aren’t at home, they are oftentimes in the classroom, which means schools are also tasked with protecting children.
“Let me just say the safety and security of our staff and students is a number one priority,” said Dr. Patricia O’Connor, Superintendent of Whitley County Consolidated Schools.
“Parents entrust the most valuable thing in their lives to us, so safety and security, it never leaves our minds.”