A Parent’s Greatest Fear

A parent’s greatest fear is that something terrible will happen to their child and, for the parents of Nicole Madison Lovell from Blacksburg, Va., that fear was realized this past weekend. Thirteen year-old Nicole Madison Lovell was reported missing sometime after midnight on Wednesday, January 27, 2016. Over the weekend, two Virginia Tech students were arrested on charges related to her abduction and death.

parent's greatest fear

According to the FBI report on the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) website, in 2014, there were 466,949 entries in the NCMEC database for missing children. Lovell’s story made national headlines and was reported on by a wide range of local and national news and media outlets ranging from the Roanoke Times to CNN to Teen Vogue. And for good reason, Nicole required daily medication related to her condition as a liver transplant recipient.  To go more than three days without the medicine would surely result in her death. An alert was posted on local television stations and on HelpSaveTheNextGirl. Her body was discovered Saturday afternoon about 100 miles away from home. The exact cause of death has not yet been reported.

Two Virginia Tech engineering students, David E. Eisenhauer, 18, of Columbia, Maryland, and Natalie Keepers, 19, also from Maryland, have been arrested on charges related to Lovell’s abduction, death and disposal of the body.

News of a missing child is always disturbing and resonates with every parent’s greatest fear that something bad will happen to their child. Yet, we rarely think our children will be unsafe in their own homes. Lovell’s story includes a cyber trail that may prove to involve online teen dating sites where it has been reported that she was an active participant. This is where is gets tricky for parents.

Do you know what your teen does online?

I remember growing up during a much simpler time (pre-Internet) where I was told by my parents to “be home by 5 p.m. and don’t talk to strangers.” Unfortunately, for parents today, kids talking to strangers is the norm thanks to interwebs where there no filters and tempting boundaries are just waiting to be explored. Access is easy–way too easy.

Apparently, Lovell was involved in online teen dating sites that her mother did not know about. Police are investigating the connections between her and Eisenhauer.

Related: Near Virginia Tech, a 13-year-old’s online fantasies turn fatal

Since this story broke, I have been reaching out to my online network for more information about teen dating sites and what parents can do to protect their children. Diana Graber, co-founder of Cybewise, can’t stress enough how important it is that parents to show interest in what their kids are doing online, ask questions, and most importantly, know what apps and websites their kids are using. In addition, she recommends Pocket Guardian which can alert parents when sexting or cyberbullying messages have been sent or received on their child’s phone.

“Mirroring” your child’s cell phone is another strategy parents can implement. Mirroring allows parents to see all of the text messages, even deleted ones, sent to or from their child’s phone.

Our college town, here in Blacksburg, has been rocked by these events. Virginia Tech’s president, Timothy Sands, released a letter of support for Tech students and the community and Blacksburg Middle School, where Lovell attended, has counseling available for the students and staff.

Lovell’s story is not over and, as the investigation continues, there will be more insights on what steps we, as parents, can take to protect our children from both themselves and online danger.