DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - It is a harrowing ordeal that leaves families shaken even after learning that their loved ones are safe: police have called them 'virtual kidnappings', and now North Texas families are being targeted. And it all starts with a phone call.
"They said, make sure the windows are up, lock your door, do not contact anybody, otherwise, we will kill your daughter." And with those words, what had been just a typical day for this Dallas mother took a sharp turn.
In her mind, the former educator says perhaps she should have known better, but: "Your heart, your heart... I opened the door and threw up and said 'this can't be happening! Why didn't I stop? Why didn't I stop and watch her go into the school?' All I could think of was my daughter in the van some place, driving around in the city with these men hurting her."
We are not disclosing the mother's name. She says her family is still rattled and her home has turned into a fortress since the ordeal. You see, the caller knew her name, her daughter's name and when she should be in school. He immediately began directing her to nearby bank to withdraw cash. She managed to alert a parking attendant, first.
"She hears the kidnapper on the phone cursing me. I mouth to her to call police. And she was wonderful," recalls the mother who we will call Mary. At that point, the attendant quickly takes cell phone pictures of the mother, her car and license plates -- just in case. The caller is already hurrying Mary to get going to the bank.
Within minutes, police surround the vehicle. Mary grabs another child's stray homework worksheet to scribble her teenage daughter's name, birthday and school and holds it to the window. Meanwhile, that high pitched female voice is still screaming. "I hear her screaming, don't hang up, don't hang up," describes Mary.
"The things they're saying to you that they're doing to your child is beyond heinous. And the girl is screaming that she's in her underwear. It's so visceral for us as women... all I kept thinking is if she does live through this, what's life going to be like for her now?"
Her mother's eyes are making a silent plea to the police that surround her -- and then an officer answers with a notebook pressed against her window.
"He puts his notebook up against my window and says your daughter is safe. It was amazing," says Mary, her eyes, days later, filling with tears. "It was like when they hand your baby to you in the hospital, when you first see them: you're okay,you're healthy, I have you in my arms... that's all I could think... my daughter is okay."
Police encouraged her to stay on the line for as long as she could to give them a chance to get information on the suspect. But, catching these phone line sociopaths has proven difficult.
Two 'fake kidnappings' were reported at DISD's Townview magnet last week, prompting the district to send out an alert to warn other families. Since then, district officials say a few other families have also come forward to say they were contacted as well.
Mary says the best she can do is warn other parents that hysterical screams all sound the same.
"Until it happens to you, you don't know how you're going to react: if your child is not with you, anything is possible."
for more features.