Video: Will these kids practice 'stranger danger'?

By Rob Stafford Correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/8/2007 12:36:42 AM ET 2007-03-08T05:36:42

This report aired Dateline Wednesday, March 7

Bill Stanton will be “stealing a car,” “breaking into a house,” and “luring kids” for one reason: He says Americans are in more danger than they need to be.

We’re more vulnerable, he says, because some simple rules aren’t followed. You may have seen him on the TODAY show as a paid NBC security consultant, showing how easy it is to snatch a child... or getting conned by crooked fortune tellers.

some of his methods may seem unrealistic or unorthodox, but stanton says he’s not showing us anything thieves dont already know.

On “Dateline,” see the world according to Bill, who says too many Americans don’t know a crime when they see it, and too many don’t call police when they do. And Stanton makes no apologies how he illustrates what he thinks is apathy when it comes to preventing crime.

His story begins in 1987, three years after becoming a New York City police officer, Stanton was chasing a burglar on a routine call. He fell and learned the hard way that real life cops can’t jump they way they do on TV.

Stanton left the police department, opened a private investigation agency and became a personal bodyguard. At the same time, Stanton became bouncer at a trendy nightclub. And after hobnobbing with celebrities, decided he wanted to be one himself.

He became known as “Wild Bill,” and that character that he created ended up on the cover of New York Magazine.

Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent: How many people picked up that magazine and said, “Stanton?  How did he get on the cover of New York magazine?”

Bill Stanton: A lot of people in my side of the business, private investigators, you know, asking, “How did—how did he get on the cover?”  And my reply is "Britney Spears doesn’t have the best voice in pop music either."  (laughs) It’s the whole thing, it’s the whole game.

But in the end Stanton says it isn’t about just show business or his own fame. He says his mission is simple: to keep us alert to the hazards that are out there.

Stafford: How is television a tool in this mission?

Stanton: I am affecting more people on one segment than I would as a lifetime as a cop.

So get ready for a wild ride  with the man who calls himself 'Wild Bill Stanton.' Our hidden cameras caught everything, including a few things that surprised even Bill Stanton himself.

Breaking into cars
The shady-looking guy casing these cars in Asbury Park New Jersey isn’t a car thief but NBC security consultant Bill Stanton.

Thieves steal 1.2 million cars each year in the United States, about 1 every 25 seconds.

Stanton says one reason isn’t the lack of alarms inside the car—it’s the lack of alarms outside—people like you and me.

Your image may be that a car thief strikes at night when no one is looking. But Stanton says its easy to steal a car anytime. So we parked a car at a train station during the morning rush hour to see how people would react when Stanton broke in.

Stanton: The point is that people are watching what’s going down.  Are they gonna take action?

In other words, Stanton says most people wouldn’t call the cops even if they saw  a man breaking into a car in broad daylight.

He set out to prove his point by first showing what would happen when a potential thief is wearing business clothes.

A nicely-dressed Stanton smashes a car window and an alarm goes off.

Stafford: So, you’ve smashed in the window, you’ve disconnected the alarm. Are people seeing you right now?

Stanton: Oh, yeah.

People were watching from a train station. And even as Stanton peels out, not one of these people took action.

We should tell you that before Stanton did any of this, we notified the local police about the exercise.

Sgt. Amir Bercowicz was surprised at the lack of public response.

Sgt. Amir Bercowicz: It was just so extreme that that many people viewed something odd going on and didn’t call, which is something that I think we all have a duty to do.

But would onlookers respond any differently if Stanton casually?

A sanitation worker takes a look, mimics what Stanton to his driver is doing, and then drives off. But would a real car thief rob a car like this?

Witness: It was very noticable. I thought probably the guy left his keys inside.

Stafford: Isn’t it logical, people would think, “Hey, that’s you’re car.  You’re frustrated.  You left the keys inside.”

Stanton: You know what?  He didn’t call 911. If it was his car, you know he’d be taking action.

Stafford:  I don’t blame these guys for not confronting you because—

Stanton: Oh, I don’t blame ‘em either.

Stafford: Because, look at the size of you.  And you got a cement block.

Stanton: No—yeah, absolutely.  But, I don’t see anyone going into their cell phone. What does that take?  15 seconds?

In all, at least 15 people at this train station saw Stanton smash windows. Two people called 911.

Would people react any differently in a more populated place, like outside a diner during a busy lunch hour?

Again and again, Stanton smashed windows. And again, no calls to 911. And it gets even more frustrating when Stanton makes himself obvious with a colorful outfit.

No one does anything—but again—would a thief really behave this way?

Stafford: You look ridiculous. A car thief is not gonna look like this. 

Stanton: Well, what does a car thief look like?

Stafford: They probably assume that’s you car.

Stanton: You’re assuming.  And that’s the big mistake.

This time three men walk right by.

Stanton: What does it take to get on the phone and call 911? There’s a guy in  a straw hat and orange T-shirt.  He may be breaking into a car.  He may not.

Most people just don’t want to get involved.  And when they do—

Bystander: Wouldn’t it be cheaper to call a locksmith?

Sometimes, a simple explanation is enough to convince some there’s no theft going on here. And once, there was even a good neighbor. A man actually offers to help and gives Stanton a hammer to break a window with.

Stanton: A good Samaritan. Bad judgment. He’s not questioning anything. 

Stafford: So, this guy, not only does he not call 911.  He lends you a hand.

Stanton: That’s right.

This man told us he thought Stanton locked his keys inside.

Stanton: Did it ever cross your mind that I was breaking into this car?

Bystander: Not in broad daylight. Not with a cinderblock.

Dr. Marissa Randazzo, the former chief research psychologist with the U.S. Secret Service says what we’ve been seeing has a name: bystander apathy.

Marissa Randazzo, psychologist: I was disappointed but I wasn’t surprised that so few people intervened. If I’m looking at all of these other people and no one else seems that alarmed, maybe they’re just as confused as I am as to what’s going on or what to do.  They don’t intervene, so I don’t intervene either.

But even though many look the other way, there are others who get suspicious.

An older lady walks nearby and says her friend is calling the cops on Bill.

Bystander: She’s calling the cops on you

Stanton: I’m just trying to get into my car.

Bystander: Yah, right.

Stanton: Now that’s the attitude I like to see.  Elderly woman with a cane, she’s getting involved. She’s like, “You believe that fool?”

But it’s one woman who really takes action...

Stanton: I wave my goodbye, now I’m walking off. She gets involved, all alone by herself. She had already called 911. 

Of all the people who witnessed the break-ins at Frank’s diner, one woman is the only person to call the police. It turns out she works in law enforcement. She’s a probation officer.

Female bystander: I didn’t know what he was doing, I just thought he was really violent.

But if most people ignore a car break-in, what would your neighbors do if someone were breaking into your house?

Of all crimes reported in the United States, property crime ranks number one. The vast majority of burglaries happen at private homes during the day when most people are off to work.

And if it was easy for NBC security consultant Bill Stanton to break into a car without much interference, he says breaking into a home is even easier.

And again, he says it’s because neighbors aren’t watching out for each other.

Bill Stanton, security consultant: You know, everybody always says, “We live in a strong community. Our neighbors watch out.  We watch out for each other.” Well, we put that to the test.

If a stranger was trying to get into your house, would anyone notice?  Would they call the police?

So we found a family to volunteer their home in a residential neighborhood in suburban New York where there would be people on the street. Stanton played the role of burglar, dressed as a construction worker and openly appeared to be breaking into the home.

Again, we’ve told local authorities about his experiment just in case someone does call 911.

For this caper, Stanton brings along a partner in crime—an NBC staffer wearing a hidden camera. They pull up in a van posing as a road crew and right away engage a neighbor across the street.

Stanton (hidden camera footage): You’re okay with the cones here, right?

Neighbor: Doesn’t bother me

Stanton: Alright.

Stanton says being friendly makes him seem less suspicious.

Stanton: Right now I’m identifying an open window so that’s going to be my way in.

And with the neighbors watching, Stanton leans a ladder against the house and climbs in.

Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent: You find a bedroom?

Stanton: Probably the most important room in their house.  It’s their baby’s room.

These neighbors appear curious, but don’t call police even when Stanton and his accomplice carry out golf clubs and other personal items.

Stanton:  Now they’re watching us—he knew something is up.

Stanton even stops these women and tells them exactly what he’s up to.

Stanton: “We’re just going to burglarize a house that’s all”

The women nod and smile. And believe it or not, still, no one calls 911.

Next stop: Another house, this time in a gated community near Las Vegas. To get past the automated gate, Stanton simply waits for another car to punch the security code and then follows it in.

Stanton: We decided to up the ante. We took away the construction outfit.

Stafford: You’re gonna make it even more obvious this time.

Stanton: That’s right.

Stafford: Less of a disguise.  No disguise.

Stanton: Right. 

Stanton looks for a way in, no open window or door.  But Stanton says if he simple broke a window, he’d be in, especially in a secluded area like this backyard.

And if you’re wondering about an alarm, Stanton and the police say it’s a deterrent, but not a barrier he cant get beat if he acts quickly.

But could Stanton get past the neighbors? Watch how Stanton even brags about being a burglar.

Stanton (hidden camera footage): Hey neighbors! Do you know if the Pattons are coming home soon?

Neighbor: Hi there.

Stanton: The Pattons—oh, you guys don’t live around here?

Neighbor: Oh, we live here. Just walking here.

Stanton: I’m in the middle of robbing this house for crying out loud.

Neighbor: Well let me get your name and photograph. How ya doin’?

Stanton: Doing well, doing well. No, we’re here to pick up some stuff. I’m waiting here. I wanted to know if anybody had an idea.

Neighbor: Oh, you got me.

Stanton: Alrighty. If you guys want to help on the way back. You’re more than welcome.

Neighbor: Yah right, I’ll just give you my address.

Stafford: You just said, “I’m robbing the house.”  You made a joke out of it.  You shook his hand. Of course he’s not gonna think you’re robbing the house.

Stanton: Well time out— I just threw him off the mark.  And they may have been questioning me.  But, I just erased all of that suspicion out of their mind by a couple of easy sentences.

Stanton: Look at this person in your community that’s walking out with property.  Question them, if nothing else, how long does it take to jot down the license number?

When we showed the tape to the owners of this house, they were shocked when they learned these weren’t just any neighbors.

Mrs. Patton: They’re the homeowners association, the volunteers who live in the community.

Stanton: Essentially the  people that write you up if your light bulbs aren’t working well?

Mr. Patton: We’ve been written up many times.

Former chief psychologist for the U.S. Secret Service, Marisa Randazzo says the neighbors reaction is a classic case of bystander apathy.

Stafford: We’ve upped the ante.  It’s not a car, it’s a house. The neighbors look across the street—they clearly see him there. What are they thinking, do you think? 

Marissa Randazzo, psychologist: In this situation, they’re inhibited by the fact that they think Bill is supposed to be there. They think there may be a prior relationship between Bill and the people who live in this house.

But at the next house, also in Las Vegas, could Stanton be even more obvious?  Watch what happens when he flags down a pizza delivery man.

Stafford: What do you have?

Stanton: I have a cigar, a piece of china, and their bottle of champagne.  So, I’m looking to someone, “Call the cops please.”

Stafford: And you’re just walking in the middle of this neighborhood.

Stanton: In the middle of the street, and I spot a pizza delivery man.  And I call him over.

Stanton (hidden camera footage): Are the cops around here a lot?

Pizza Delivery Man: Why do you ask?

Stanton: Cause I’m taking them down. I’m ripping them off.

Pizza delivery man: Really?

Stanton: Here you go (hands the delivery guy a bottle of liquor)

Pizza delivery man: Really?

Stanton: Yah. Go get out of here. I thought you saw—you didn’t see the cops around here, did ya?

Pizza Delivery Man: No—uh huh, Thanks man!

Bill: No get out of here, Bye!

The family that owned this house was outraged when we showed them the tape.

Mr. Pomerantz: The notion that you could just come in here and charm him with a bottle of wine or a bottle of champagne and a cigar in your mouth. That’s kinda scary. That’s real scary.

But if innocent bystanders aren’t aware enough of crime when it’s happening before their eyes, how sharp are the people who are paid to look out for your safety? A hotel is your home away from home.  But will Bill Stanton be able to talk his way into a room that isn’t his?

The people who run hotels are entrusted with keeping you safe. But how alert are hotel employees to possible criminal behavior?

Hotels have gone a long way in recent years to improve security of their guests. So could Bill Stanton gain access to a hotel room that wasn’t his?

Bill Stanton: We’ve all heard these nightmare scenarios where people’s rooms have been ransacked or worse, so the idea was… can I get into a hotel room? What can I accomplish?  Without any inside information.

First stop: the Intercontinental, an upscale hotel in Manhattan where we got a room.

We didn’t want Stanton to break into a real guest’s room, so “Dateline” booked a room under a different name and challenged Stanton to get in.

Stafford: A Dateline producer actually checked into that room.

Stanton: That’s right.  We didn’t want to actually break in a room, so we used that room as our target room.

But for this exercise, he’s providing no proof it’s his room, so no one should give him access.

Once inside the hotel, Stanton carries his only prop—a bathrobe.  He’ll make his quick costume change in a stairwell.

Stanton: There are no security cameras, so that’s why I’m getting into my uniform here.

Then Stanton asks a maid to let him into the room. Remember, he provides no proof it’s his.

Stanton: I got locked out, and then my wife went away. Thank you so much.

Within seconds, she let’s Stanton in.

Stanton: Thank you so much.

The maid was simply being polite and thought she was helping.

But Former Secret Service Psychologist Marisa Randazzo says it’s just that kind of kindness that criminals embrace.

Marisa Randazzo, psychologist: They’re in a dilemma they’re trying to weigh back and forth, “Do I maintain security or do I keep the customer happy?”

We should tell you we’re not giving away any secrets here. These crimes do happen and criminals already know these tricks.

Next stop: the Hilton Hotel in midtown Manhattan. This time, Stanton has a new test to see how aware hotel staffers are to possible criminal behavior. Stanton says the first thing a criminal would need is a target, someone they want to rip-off. In this case, it’s a Dateline staffer.

Stafford: You’re following our Dateline producer to the desk.

Stanton: And I’m making note of everything.  That she’s alone.  She has an expensive watch. I’m taking note of the bag, which’ll come into play later. And what I need is her last name and room number.

And how will he get her last name and room number? Hotel staffers are supposed to keep that private. So how alert would they be to someone trying to get that information?

Stanton stands near the  check-in desk pretending he’s talking on his cell phone as our producer checks in by herself. Stanton is close enough to make the clerk think the two of them are together and also close enough to hear our producer’s name and room number.

Stanton: I’m giving her enough space to not freak her out, but yet make him think I’m with her.

Stanton: He’s giving her the key, I’m listening to the name, I’m listening to the room number. As he’s saying it, I’m writing it down.

Stafford: So now you know where she’s staying.

Stanton: That’s right.  Now I got my information, I’m walking away.

Stafford: But you don’t have a key.

Stanton: Not yet.

Stanton waits for his target to leave her room. Now he knows the room is empty—

Stanton: Now we’re waiting.  Here she is. Our producer just left. Shopping, sightseeing, whatever.  Now I’m making my move.

Using the information he overheard, he’ll now try to get a key.

Stanton: I need your help. We just checked in about 15 minutes ago... Fox from 3932. My wife just took off, and she gave me the key to the hotel we stayed at last night.

The clerk responds appropriately.

Front desk clerk: Your name’s not listed here. Do you have photo ID with the same address she gave us?

Stanton: No she has everything.

Stanton: No.

Then,  she agrees to let the security people handle the situation.

Front Desk Clerk: I can send up... You have your stuff in the room? I can send up security and they can let you in.

Stanton: Oh beautiful... excellent.

At the hallway, he’s approached by a security guard.

Stafford: So is your game over because security’s on its way?

Stanton: No, this is where the game really just begun. This is where the bag comes into play. 

Stanton (hidden camera footage): Security, you’re a life saver! I am sweltering outside. How are you?

Security:  Okay, good.

Stanton: Doing well, doin’ well.

Security does the right thing and asks for his ID. But remember that bag Stanton noticed our producer was carrying?

Stanton: Oh, all I have is a western bag in here.

Stanton: Oh there it is.

Stanton:  Yah, she took everything. So this is my bag.  Thank you so much.

Stanton:  Thanks a lot. Have a good day sir.

Stanton:  Thank you, thank you. I shopped around for it.

Stafford: He asked you for the ID.

Stanton: Right.

Stafford: That was the right thing to do.

Stanton: That’s right.

Stafford: Then what happened?

Stanton: He didn’t stand his ground.

Stafford: What should they have done?

Stanton: All they had to ask was, “What’s her home address?” They could have presented more obstacles to me.  You know, I was counting on their good manners.  I would rather you be rude than ripped off.

So is it that easy to get into a hotel room that isn’t yours? We decided to hit the hotel casinos in Las Vegas, businesses that use the most extensive and sophisticated security systems anywhere in America. Would Stanton’s techniques work here?

First, the $5,000 room MGM Grand. Again, Stanton follows our producer. And again learns what room she’s in. Armed with that information, Stanton returns to the counter.

Stanton (hidden camera footage): My girlfriend and I, we just checked in. I borrowed the paper... she gave me the wrong key. She has everything. My bags up there, but she has everything.         

Front desk: Okay, I’m actually gonna have to call security to meet you up there.

Stanton: Thank you so much.

Front desk: My pleasure. I apologize.

Stanton: Oh no, I’m getting in, that’s what counts.

And once again, security unlocks the room.

Stanton: There should be a black leather bag and a Samsonite bag.

Security: Let me, uh...

Stanton:  Right there, in the corner. Say’s Ducati, in the corner. Sorry about that

Stanton: Have a good day sir.

Here at the Hooters Hotel and Casino in Vegas, same thing:

Stanton: Thanks a lot.

Stafford: Does this say more about what a good con man you can be or how bad security is at some of these hotels?

Stanton: Combination of both. 

At one hotel, the Rio, would Stanton’s luck hold out? He rolled the dice one more time. 

He makes his plea to the clerk:

Stanton: I just made a big  -- I just put my girlfriend in a cab. She left with everything. She gave me the key to go to the room. Wrong key.

Front desk: She didn’t add any names at all to her room.

Stanton: My bags in there. Can you just send me up with security?

Front desk: If your name’s not on here at all we can’t let in the room.

Stanton: Even if my bag’s in there?

Front desk: It’s something...

Stanton: It’s about discretion my friend.

Front desk: Yeah it’s someone else’s room, that’s why.

Stanton: Yeah, you don’t have to give me a key.  I’ll just—I just want to go sleep.  Tired.

And for the first time in this experiment, Stanton finds someone who wont take the bait.

Front desk: Sorry.

Stanton: No, good job. You’re doing your job.

Front desk: Thank you.

Stanton: I appreciate it. Have a good day. Have a good day

Front desk: You too.

Stafford: Were you surprised by what happens at this hotel?

Stanton: Yes. He listened to the voice that everyone else turned away from.

NBC Security Consultant Bill Stanton broke into cars, homes and hotel rooms and very few people tried to stop him. But will any alarms go off if a potential predator tries to lure an unsuspecting child to his car? Again, Stanton says we have to be alert to crime—especially this kind.

These volunteer parents said they were curious to see if their kids would know the right thing to do when a stranger approaches.

Bill Stanton: When we were kids coming up, "Don’t take candy from strangers," that was the parental advice. It’s a far more complicated world. We want to see if they train their kids correctly.

Mike, parent: I think all of us and all the kids have to realize that—you know, something like this happens, a lot of it’s on their shoulders.

One woman has a 9-year-old son.

Karen: I’m trusting him to listen to everything that I’ve told him.  And that’s why I did it today—to get peace of mind to know that whatever I’m teaching him is going to work when he goes outside in public and I’m not there. 

The first stop: a park in suburban New Jersey. These three girls ages 9 to 12 have no idea our hidden cameras are rolling or that their parents are in on the exercise.

Mom to kids: Hey guys, I’m going over to the clubhouse. I’m going to get a soccer application for Taylor, okay? I’ll be back in five minutes, okay?

But would they follow what they were taught? Stanton put them to the test with a more gentle demeanor and a new prop: an adorable puppy.

Bill’s goal: to see if he can separate one of the girls from the others... and, as a real abductor might, could he get her close to his car?

Stanton (hidden camera footage): Hey you want some treats?

Girl: Okay. He’s so cute.

Stanton: Yeah.

Stanton: Yeah, I just got him. He’s a shelter dog.

At first, Stanton comes up with a story to try to draw them in.

Stanton: He’s actually going to be a TV dog.

Girl: Really?

Stanton: Yeah, he’s going to be in the next movie—what the heck is that, “High School Rock,” “High School Musical” or something?

Stanton: yah, yah, yah. yah, yah… they’re doing a sequel.. they’re putting him in it.

Girl 2: yah.

Girl: Oh I gotta watch it then!

Stanton: Yeah yeah you guys have dogs?

Girl: Yeah...

Girl: My dad’s allergic. But i love dogs.

Stanton: here you go, (giving them treats to give to dog)

Girl: My dad’s allergic.

Stanton: there you go...oh, your dad is allergic?

Stanton: But he grew up with dogs and cats.

Stanton: Can you guys watch him? I’m going to get some more, uh, some more, uh, treats for him? Ok, I’m just going right over to the car

Girl: Okay.

Stanton tries another trick: he tempts them with a gift.

Stanton: You guys want it? The studio sent them to me. You guys want one of these? You want it? I think I have others. I have others—they gave me, you know who Shania Twain is?

Girl: Oh, I love Shania Twain.

Stanton: Really? She’s going to be singing. She’s going to be in that.

Watch what happens next.

Stanton: You know what? Can one of you guys just take that dog, while I go... I have two more of those if you want...

Girl: No, we’re fine can take him. We’re going to go play anyway now.

Stanton: Oh no, I was going to give you two more. You sure?

Girl: No, we’re fine.  

Stanton: You sure?

Girl: I don’t need the CD anyway so...

Stanton: Bye... (to the dog)

Girls (all): Bye, thank you! Bye!

The girls didn’t take the bait.

Stanton (to producers): They were smart. They passed.

Stanton: They knew something wasn’t up.  You read their body language. I was acting a little fishy the way I would interpret a pedophile would or a predator would. And their bells and whistles were going off, they were listening.

And they were surprised when Stanton let them in on his secret.

Stanton (to the kids, during the debrief): You all got an ‘A.’ I put you guys to the test with permission from your moms. There’s your moms, go give them a big hug.

Stanton: Well, you guys were really polite about it but you were smart enough to go on and move on to your moms.

Girl: It was like a little uncomfortable because you kept going to the car and walking away and it was creepy a little.

Greta: I got freaked out and so I just started walking away.

Next stop was this quiet cul-de-sac also in New Jersey where another group of six volunteer parents said they wanted to see how crime-savvy their kids were.

Three boys and two girls ages 8-12 were told to play outside while their parents were in a house nearby.

Stanton pretends to be talking on the phone, to give the kids time to play with the dog.

Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent: What are you doing?

Stanton: I’m feeling them out. I’m getting them used to my presence.  I’m not making bold moves. And I’m gonna let this dog do all my work. I want them to come to me.

Will any of the kids come close to this stranger’s car?

Stanton (hidden camera footage): One of you guys wanna bring him over here? You can pick him up, it’s okay.

Stanton: Oh don’t be afraid, just pick him up. He’s a puppy, you can pick him up. Yah bring him over. Thank you.

Stanton: Just bring him up over here and lay him down in the trunk.

Stanton: Hey you wanna feed him? Sure, thank you, thank you.

Stafford: You have him in the palm of your hand. The trunk is open, and he’s standing right by the trunk.

Stanton: Real scary. It doesn’t go beyond this, but not as a parent, you know where this can go.

Stafford: How long would it take for you to snatch him?

Stanton: (snaps fingers) we’re gone.

This boy even climbs under Stanton’s car to get a ball.

Stanton (hidden camera): Be careful... go ahead.

While all the boys ignore the risks posed by a stranger, listen carefully to how the girls react.

Girl 1 (whispering to each other): Oh well, I’m not going near that guy. I wouldn’t be dumb enough to go over there. But Christopher is. At least somebody’s not that dumb.

Girl 2: The dog I don’t mind.

Girl 1: Still. We don’t really know that guy, so. I wouldn’t go near him.

Girl 2: He’s like two feet taller than Chris.

Girl 1: There’s just something about that guy. I don’t know what though. Why they’re standing at his car feeding a dog. It’s not a smart—it’s not very smart idea.

Stafford: Look at their faces. The girls are worried about you. And at this point you say that little voice is screaming inside of their heads.

Stanton: They know it. And they’re listening to the instructions their parents gave them over the years. I mean, how did the girls know and not the boys?  That’s interesting—

The difference in the way the girls react from the boys doesn’t surprise former Secret Service psychologist Marissa Randazzo. She says boys are often afraid to show fear.

Marissa Randazzo: The boys don’t want to show any cowardice, certainly around other boys they have to be brave. For girls, there’s no cost at all to showing fear.

For the parents of the boys, it was very tough to watch.

Ed, parent: Scary, he could have been gone.

Manelle: Five times over, I think. You had so many opportunities to take him if you wanted to. You really did.

Karen:  Had he a bigger trunk, he could have put ‘em all in and taken off in the five minutes.

Mike: It’s of course scary. I’m proud that the girls stayed back. 

But parents take heart: Watch what happens when Stanton approaches a 12-year-old girl who’s watching her little brother.

Stanton (hidden camera): Do you have one of these (referring to scooter)?

Girl: Yeah, that’s mine right there.

Stanton: Oh, that one was yours? Oh, that is so cool.

Listen carefully to way the little girl responds.

Stanton: These things, how do they  go up and down?

Girl: You measure it up and down.

Stanton: Can you show me?

Girl: Ummm, no.

Stanton: No?

Girl: I need to—I need to go inside. Michael, we got to go inside, remember?

Stanton: The brother who’s five isn’t really responding.  And she says, “Remember mom and dad want us to do something?”  And she grabs the brother and she runs him inside the house.

Stafford: Quick-thinking kid.

Stanton:That’s right. Not only thought about herself, had the presence of mind to get her brother, and not to panic. When she spoke to mom.  She wasn’t sure. She wasn’t hysterical crying. She goes, “mom, I think something happened.”

Stafford: Impressive.

Stanton: Excellent job.

Their parents were frightened, but relieved.

Michael: It’s a surreal watching them, watching someone else talk to your kids and knowing that if this was the real deal something bad could really happen, and...

Catherine: Yeah. I’m really proud of her.

Michael: Yeah, me, too. We got a free lesson without the risk.

So in the end, perhaps the most crime-savvy of the bunch wasn’t a neighbor, a security guard, or a city employee— it was a young girl who knew when to smell a rat.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

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