Police and school officials in the Camas, Wash., district are among the dozens of leaders in communities nationwide who are using a free computer program to teach students about internet predators and the online dangers of kidnapping, sex abuse, and child pornography.

“We know for a fact that you are prime targets for this kind of activity,” Camas Police Officer Tim Dickerson told a class of 11- and 12-year-olds from James D. Zellerbach Elementary School.

Beginning this month, all sixth graders in the school district will spend a day using “Missing,” an interactive CD-ROM game that requires students to crack a child-abduction case. It’s part of a new program in Clark County, Wash., to educate parents and children on the growing menace of sexual predators online.

The course is introduced in sixth grade because students are more often using the internet, text messaging, and visiting chat rooms by then.

“This is such a serious thing,” said Sherry Keene, Zellerbach school counselor. “I have kids coming and talking to me, having a computer in their room, unsupervised, getting into chat rooms.”

During a six-hour session, Zellerbach students meet “Zack,” a boy who befriends a 40-year-old man he believes to be a trendy California kid named Fantasma.

Zack’s online buddy has his own web site featuring photos of happy teenagers and preteens lounging at the beach. But when Zack gives him his personal information, he finds himself held captive in San Diego with other children who are exploited on a web site aimed at pedophiles.

Youngsters must solve word and number codes and use visual clues to help police find Zack’s abductor.

The game is an entertaining but helpful reminder to students of the possible dangers the internet presents.

“Think twice when you’re on the internet,” said 12-year-old Kyle Erwin.

“It was educational and fun, which is very rare these days,” 11-year-old Alec Maier said. “It was the best interactive thing I’ve done.”

As part of the course, students also return an Internet Safety Plan they craft and sign with their parents. It lays out what happens at home should they be targeted with personal and sexual questions or sexual images.

“Missing” is distributed by Santa Ana, Calif.-based Web Wise Kids. At least 340,000 students in 47 states reportedly have tried the game, which through federal grants and private money is offered at no cost to police and schools, according to the company.

Camas Police had been considering the program for a while. The school board approved the course after a Clark County 14-year-old was abducted in August by a man she’d met on the internet. She was found, beaten and abused, two weeks later in a house near Tacoma.


Web Wise Kids