If there is one thing parents can agree on, it’s that kids get stir crazy when they are in the house for too long and often. Both parents and kiddos need some time outside of the home. Diandra Toyos is a Southern California mom of three kiddos aged 4, 1.5, and 7 weeks. She and her mom decided to do some couch shopping to get the kids out of the house. It was supposed to be a fun day outing, but it turned into a scary experience that Toyos is now warning others about.
In an incident that has now luckily gone viral, Toyos is taking to social media to share her frightening encounter. She says she had read about this kind of thing before and “I always think “wow, that’s so scary… I need to be careful.” But I also always think “that could never happen to me…But you guys, it did.”
While Toyos was couch shopping, her mom and kiddos in tow, she noticed that two men were very obviously following them. Her first thought: they were being targeted by sex traffickers.
“My daughter was trying to convince us which couch we should get. My older son was happily walking from couch to couch, flopping himself on each one. My baby boy was snuggled into the sling, sound asleep. After a few minutes, I noticed a well dressed, middle aged man circling the area, getting closer to me and the kids. At one point he came right up to me and the boys, and instinctively I put myself between he and my mobile son. I had a bad feeling. He continued to circle the area, staring at the kids. He occasionally picked something up, pretending to look at it but looking right over at us instead. My mom noticed as well and mentioned that we needed to keep an eye on him. We moved on… and so did he. Closely. My son wandered into one of the little display rooms across from the couches and I followed him closely with my baby strapped to me. My mom said she watched as the older man dropped what he was doing and quickly and closely followed us into the area. At the same time, she noticed another man dressed more casually and in his 20s. He wasn’t looking at us, but was walking the same circling pattern around us as the first man. My mom and I decided to sit down and wait for them to move on.”
The men did not move on, in fact, they stuck around even closer.
“So we sat in one of the little display rooms. For close to 30 minutes. And they sat too. They sat down on one of the couches on the display floor that faced us. That was when we knew our gut feeling was right and something was off. They sat the whole time we sat, and stood up right as we got up. We continued on and my mom turned around and realized the two men had moved and were sitting only one couch away from each other, still facing our direction. The older man was still watching us. She made eye contact… very clearly letting them know that we saw them. And we moved on. We managed to lose them at that point. (We talked with an employee, circled back and used the bathroom and went out into a different section). But still kept the kids right with us the whole time. I kept the baby in the sling which kept my hands free and my eyes too. I didn’t have to keep an eye on the stroller AND two kids… I just had to watch my older ones. When we got through the maze of IKEA, we reported what happened to security.”
Finally free from the men after more than an hour, Toyos reported the incident to IKEA security. There are a few things she wants to really point out to parents. These men weren’t shopping and they certainly weren’t waiting for anyone. They were dressed very nicely and probably most importantly: “the area they were hanging around had an exit right by it. IKEA is a massive confusing maze of a store. But they could have run out that exit with my child and handed them off to someone waiting outside and been gone before I could find them.”
Toyos says she is “almost sure that we were the targets of human trafficking,” and the big big lesson she wants parents to take away from her terrifying experience is this: “Please PLEASE be aware when you’re out with your children. It’s not the time to be texting or facebooking or chatting on the phone. When you’re in a public place with your kids, please be aware and present so that you don’t become a victim. Had I not been paying attention that day… or had I let my kids roam and play while I checked my phone… I may have lost one. The thought just makes me completely ill. (Especially because I’ve been guilty of this!) Trust your gut. It’s there for a reason.”
So, what can you take away from this? Always always always be aware of your surroundings. This is much easier said than done when you have a gang of kids to watch, but that makes it even more important. Take a few minutes to gather your bearings and have your eyes open. Scary things happen so quickly. You can read Toyo’s full post below. It’s definitely worth a read! She answers some questions with helpful answers to these terrifying moments.