As the mother of two young boys, I’ve had my fair share of awkward encounters in the bathroom.
The candid comments from toddlers about overweight strangers in the ladies’ room, the uncomfortable, blind, “anyone in here?” reconnaissance sweep of a men’s room so my older boys can go in by themselves while I stand sentinel outside, wondering if I’m really just a paranoid helicopter mom.
This here, however, is the kind of story that reaffirms my convictions that, when it comes to young children in public restrooms, you really can’t be too careful.
In 2015, the family of two young boys was dining at a Jacksonville, Florida, McDonald’s when the little ones had to use the restroom.
The two boys, aged 6 and 7, employed what the family called the “buddy system” and set off for the men’s room.
Unfortunately, the system did not work.
When the 7-year-old returned from the bathroom alone, the children’s parents suddenly became concerned.
As well they ought to have been.
According to WJXT-TV, the troubled father went into the men’s room to investigate and encountered a scene that will chill any parent’s blood.
A strange man was exiting a stall and behind him, dad found his 6-year-old, pulling up his pants.
Fortunately, the horrified father sprang into action.
Thankfully, after being alerted about the incident, patrol officers later found Sykes hiding in a dumpster and arrested him originally for possession of marijuana. They later booked him on a charge of capital sexual battery after he was identified by several witnesses as the suspect.
“The father, like I said, recognized something wasn’t right, he took off after the subject, trying to catch up to him,” Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office director Michael Bruno said at a news conference after the suspect was detained.
The details of the sex offense against the little boy were not provided, but police chief Tom Hackney said it was clear that some kind of sex crime happened.
“With child victims, you get little bits at a time. These are traumatic events that happen to these little kids,” he said.
He also urged parents to take the horrifying incident to heart.
“Parents need to be vigilant. You never know what’s on the other side of a bathroom door. This is an opportunity to have those talks with your children. That goes for boys and girls,” Hackney said.
One unnamed family member of the victim spoke to WJXT to respond to the backlash the parents received for having sent the little boy into the bathroom without adult supervision.
“We teach the buddy system, and that’s what they did. She gave the buddy system, and it was corrupted by a grown adult. It doesn’t matter how old you are, a grown man can hurt any age, male or female,” they explained.
“They were in a family-oriented restaurant sitting just a couple chairs away from the bathroom,” they said. “You can’t always stop everything. This man is crazy!”
It appears her assessment of Sykes was essentially correct.
In 2017, he was found not competent to stand trial for the crime and sent to a psychiatric hospital. He remained charged with child sexual battery, loitering and prowling, and his competency was set to be reviewed later that year.
It is unclear what has become of him since.
The family member of this poor little boy is absolutely correct — you never know when a mentally unwell person will lash out ruthlessly at you.
All the same, it is a sober warning for the parents of small, defenseless children everywhere to make sure their little ones not only understand this threat, but to place themselves between predatory strangers and their children whenever possible.
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