Diandra Toyos was wandering around an IKEA, testing out couches, with her mom and three children when she got the distinct feeling that something wasn't right.
"After a few minutes, I noticed a well-dressed, middle aged man circling the area, getting closer to me and the kids," she wrote on Facebook. "My mom noticed as well and mentioned that we need to keep an eye on him."
Toyos had her 7-week-old son strapped to her front and kept her other children, ages 4 and 1, within close range. She claims the man continued to circle their area, occasionally picking things up - his eyes always returned to her and her family. When they moved, he moved. "At one point he came right up to me and the boys, and instinctively I put myself between he and my mobile son," she wrote.
Soon, Toyos's mother noticed another man - dressed more casually and younger - hovering too close for comfort. The women decided to sit and wait for them to move on, but they didn't. "We sat in one of the little display rooms [for] close to 30 minutes," Toyos explained. "And they sat too. They sat down on one of the couches on the display floor that faced us."
This harrowing dance apparently continued for the better part of an hour, so eventually, Toyos's mother made a bold move. "She made eye contact, very clearly letting them know that we saw them," Toyos wrote. They managed to shake the men at that point, after speaking to an IKEA employee and using the bathroom. Toyos then immediately contacted IKEA security.
She isn't certain about what made the men follow her and her children, but Toyos wrote that she is "almost sure that we were the targets of human trafficking." After the incident, Toyos took to Facebook to call other parents to attention and to educate on how to best handle stalking in a public place. "When you're in a public place with your kids, please be aware and present so that you don't become a victim," she wrote. "This is happening all over, including the United States. It's in our backyards."
Her post has since gone viral - it has been shared nearly 100,000 times and has over 14,000 comments. Toyos claims that the post isn't aimed to scare the public or prevent people from living their lives - or from going to IKEA, for that matter. But something that Toyos never thought would happen to her, did. And while it's terrifying to consider being the object of stalking, especially when your children are involved, being prepared is imperative.
Toyos outlined a few key things that set off her alarm bells. The men weren't shopping, nor were they waiting for anyone. They were also hanging around an area with an exit - an easy getaway. The men did not talk to anyone, not even to each other, and didn't smile casually to passersby.
Even if the men following Toyos weren't out to do harm (it could have been a complete misunderstanding), she makes a good point about shopping in stores like IKEA. Massive, maze-like and (seemingly) endless stores are enticing for kids (so much to explore!), but letting them roam isn't the safest option. Like Toyos, keep your kids in sight, or make sure someone is with them while you browse. While having a cell phone handy is useful (in hindsight, Toyos wishes she took a photo of the men or called security sooner), cell service (especially in IKEA!) isn't a guarantee. Identifying employees and security guards is also a good call, in case of emergency.
This sounds a lot like common sense, but when you've walked into your favorite store a million times, the last thing you'd expect is to experience something this terrifying - and no one wants to think the worst. But let's not confuse passive optimism with active awareness.
"I always think, 'That could never happen to me,'" Toyos wrote, as a reminder. "But you guys, it did."
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