The young children of an Adelaide couple have narrowly avoided being kidnapped during a family holiday in Thailand.
The couple, James and Naomi Strange had just arrived at the island resort of Ko Chang a fortnight ago when an unidentified woman attempted to take their daughters Milly, 7, and Alannah, 3. The pair, who have lived in Kununurra in northwest WA for the past 12 months, described the incident as “surreal” and warned other Australians travelling overseas to be alert to the danger.
Mr Strange, 36, said they family first noticed the woman who attempted to abduct his girls while they were on the ferry travelling from the mainland to Ko Chang, where they stayed for five days after travelling through Cambodia.
He said the girls were standing next to the railing on the passenger deck of the ferry, while he and Noami, 35, were seated nearby, when he saw the woman talking to Milly. After several minutes Alannah joined her older sister and was also talking with the woman and they spoke for the remainder of the ferry trip, about 10 minutes. The Stranges were not alarmed because the woman “looked like a schoolteacher” and was seated only about 8 to 10 metres away. She was aged about 30, had glasses and blonde hair.
On arrival at Ko Chang they jumped into a taxi at the dock and began haggling with the driver over the fare to the hotel. But they exited the taxi after failing to negotiate a reasonable fare. It was while they were looking for another taxi the frightening incident unfolded in front of several dozen bystanders, including other tourists and Thai locals.
Mr Strange said in the few seconds they were not watching the girls, the unknown woman had picked up Alannah and put her in another taxi. “We thought she was trying to help,” Mr Strange said. “Naomi went up to her and said we’re not catching this one, we’re waiting for a cheaper one and pulled Alannah out of that taxi. The lady then started yelling ,’These are not your children, these are not your children’, and it escalated from there.
“She had a raised voice initially and Naomi looked at her in stunned disbelief and placed Alannah behind her legs. The lady then went to grab Milly and called her by name and said, ‘Come on Milly, let’s get in the taxi’, with a Danish or Dutch accent. Naomi then took her by the hand and asked the lady what she was doing and then there was a big screaming match.”
In desperation, Ms Strange grabbed the woman by the shirt, pushed her up against the taxi and told her to leave the children alone. But the unknown woman kept yelling at them: “These are not your children and then turned to me and said, ‘Look at you and look at the children, they are not your children’.” The scuffle ended when Naomi’s father, Barry Lewis, 71, stood between the pair and pushed the woman aside.
The woman left the scene in the taxi. When the family got to their resort they reported the incident to the local tourist police, but they appeared disinterested when they were told the woman was not Thai. Mr Strange said he regretted not taking a photograph of the woman before she fled to give to police. to provide to police.
He had “no idea” where the woman would have taken the girls because the island is only small, and added: “You could read anything into it, you just don’t know . . . who knows. It just didn’t seem organised enough to be something professional. “I think it was a spur of the moment thing. If it felt like it had been some sort of organised kidnapping ring, I probably would have done more at the time but I think it was just some travelling nut case. “People should just keep an eye on their kids. We were not out in the middle of some village, we were at a ferry terminal with other people. We could have been anywhere in the world.”
Mrs Strange echoed her husband’s views on the woman’s state of mind: “Regardless, she absolutely did try to take (the) children.”