People who live in the Barrister Crossing subdivision describe the neighborhood as “very close” and “a big family.”
While children often play in the street and neighbors routinely socialize together, the neighborhood had never had a gathering like the one Friday night.
Two doors down from where Ronald Mullins had been arrested on child pornography charges the night before, Barrister Crossing hosted its first “night out” against crime.
Michele Padula, one of the organizers and a mother of three young girls, said the neighborhood cookout was a good way “for all of us to get together and re-introduce ourselves, and talk about how we can keep our neighborhood safe and look out for each other.”
Fellow organizer Casandra Martins, who has a teenage son, said people in the neighborhood already do a good job of looking out for each other’s children and “we want to keep it that way.”
“I’ve known these kids since they were newborns,” Martins said, “so I don’t want anybody messing with my ‘babies.’ We’re a close community and we just want to make sure everybody knows that we’re serious.”
To help spread that message, organizers invited representatives from the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office, Effingham Fire Rescue and Georgia State Patrol to the cookout. ECSO Detective David Ehsanipoor shared safety tips with the children, then with parents.
Speaking to about three dozen neighborhood children, Ehsanipoor asked what they would do if a stranger approached them and the situation did not feel right.
“I’d yell,” one child said. “Run away,” said another.
A child then combined those two: “Yell, run away and get your mom.”
“And go where you know,” added a fourth child.
“Exactly,” Ehsanipoor said. “If you ever get a weird feeling because there’s a stranger wanting to talk to you or you see something that’s not right in your neighborhood, go to somebody you trust. Go to your parents or to a neighbor’s house. If it doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t.”
Pointing to the sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and state trooper standing nearby, Ehsanipoor said, “You know who else you can talk to? You can talk to any police officer or deputy sheriff or firefighter. These are the guys who will also keep you safe.”
Ehsanipoor strongly encouraged parents to monitor their children’s online activity and to keep the computer in a common room of the house rather than in a child’s bedroom.
“Stalk your kids online. Look at what they’re doing,” he said.
Ehsanipoor praised the neighborhood for taking an active role in fighting crime. A group of parents began organizing the “night out” after hearing of Mullins’ arrest Thursday night and circulated an invitation on Facebook.
The organizers had no idea how large a crowd to expect, and were happy when more than a hundred adults and children came out to enjoy food and fellowship.
“It shows that this neighborhood actually cares about what’s going on with your community,” Ehsanipoor said. “We need your help to do our job. To have this kind of turnout, not many neighborhoods are like this.”
One parent asked Ehsanipoor if the neighborhood would be notified if Mullins were to bond out of jail. Ehsanipoor said he would put out that word through social media, and he encouraged the parents to follow the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office on Facebook and Twitter.
“I just don’t want this guy in my neighborhood,” Jimmy Greene said.
“I don’t see him wanting to come back,” Padula said.
Ehsanipoor agreed with Padula that Mullins will likely not be back in the neighborhood, especially considering his bond was set at $95,000. Mullins has no ties to Effingham and had been living in Barrister Crossing only since June 1.
“I don’t think he’s going to be coming back here,” Ehsanipoor said.