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A series of incidents involving strangers approaching kids in Skokie and Winnetka have police and parents in the northern suburbs on high alert.
Four children have been targeted since Sept. 8, police said, though they believe that all of the cases are unrelated. In each instance, the descriptions of the alleged attackers have differed.
"Our investigators are being very aggressive looking into each of these cases,” said Skokie police Sgt. Mike Krupnik. "We're also strongly reinforcing safety practices with parents and kids to make sure everyone understands the best way to handle (these kinds of incidents)."
The latest -- and most severe -- incident occurred Tuesday morning, when a 15-year-old girl said she was approached by a man as she walked to a bus stop on the 9100 block of Skokie Boulevard. The man grabbed the girl's arm when she refused to walk and talk with him, she told police. She got away when by boarding her arriving school bus.
She described her attacker as a black man between the ages of 40 and 50. She said he stood about 6-feet-1 inch to 6-feet-3 inches tall and had curly, but short, black hair. He had a heavy build and was wearing a black short-sleeved T-shirt with a picture of President Barack Obama on the front and long blue jeans. Police said the suspect was also described as having a tattoo of stars on the inner portion of his forearm.
A week earlier, on Sept. 16, a 15-year-old girl said she was walking near the intersection of Church and Hill roads, in Winnetka, when a man pulled up in a newer-model, black, four-door sport utility vehicle. Through the passenger window, the man asked the girl if she needed a ride. She also reported to police that he asked how old she was and whether she attended New Trier.
The driver was described as a white man in his mid-20s, with broad shoulders and short, dark hair. He was wearing dark sunglasses, and wearing a white, skateboarder-type T-shirt with black lines on the front.
Police don't call the incident an "abduction attempt," but rather a "suspicious incident," and sent out an alert to the community because the driver and vehicle had "similar descriptions" to an event two days earlier in Skokie.
On that day, a man behind the wheel of a black SUV approached a 14-year-old girl at about 4 p.m. as she walked along the 4400 block of Birchwood Avenue on her way home from East Prairie School.
As in the Winnetka case, the driver asked her if she needed a ride, but he took things a step further. When the girls didn't answer, according to a Skokie police crime alert, the man shouted at the girl, ordering her to "get into the car!"
The girl yelled for her mother and the vehicle left the area, headed east on Howard Street.
The girl reported seeing the same SUV being driven east on Howard Street about two hours later. The driver did not say anything to the girl as he passed her, and he continued on his way.
On Sept. 8, a boy told his parents that he was approached by a man in a gray, four-door vehicle about 4:30 p.m. on the 4000 block of Oakton Street. The driver ordered him to get into the vehicle. The parents filed a police report, which described the driver as white man in his early 30s with a receding hairline.
District 68’s Devonshire School Principal Randy Needlman said there is heightened concern because of the number of child abduction attempts that have occurred in such short time.
"We're all really concerned about it because these incidents have all happened in Skokie and close together," he said. "I don’t think we've ever had this many incidents come up in a three-week period. It's alarming."
Editor's note: This report has been updated to clarify several facts related to the incidents.