SAFFORD – What happens when a person doesn’t feel safe taking their children to the local park?
One mom’s open warning went viral this week as she described a disturbing situation she and some local children had to endure at the Safford Skatepark at Firth Park.
Ashley Lybarger, of Safford, wrote a post that described an incident at the park where multiple homeless individuals harassed her and several children.
“My daughter confided in me and told me the man and woman were messing with them,” Lybarger said. “One of her friends had walked by and the man tried grabbing her. She turned around and asked him, ‘What are you doing?’ and continued to walk away. He then started to make sexual humping motions to her and the woman told them to keep on walking.”
After that interaction, an allegedly intoxicated homeless woman began screaming at the children, and other homeless individuals continued to scream even after they left, according to Lybarger.
Lybarger described the individuals harassing the children as being drunk and homeless. She told Gila Valley Central that the children involved, ages 10 and 14, were disturbed by the encounter. Lybarger called police to the scene after she was confronted by an allegedly intoxicated woman.
According to a Safford Police report, officers were dispatched to the park just before 2 p.m. The report identified an American Indian male, a black female and Lybarger all yelling at each other. The officer advised the black female had to be instructed several times to stop yelling and walk away. The American Indian male denied making the obscene gestures to the children. The officer then told the three groups to leave each other alone and they all left the park, according to the report.
Lybarger told Gila Valley Central that as she left the park, a homeless woman continued to scream profanities at her, shrieking that the park didn’t belong to the children but to the homeless community.
The park has had the nickname “Homeless Park” for quite some time and is a popular spot for those encamped across U.S. Highway 70 down by the Gila River to come to during the day. Also, its proximity to Circle K across the street makes it a popular spot for the homeless community to partake in alcoholic beverages purchased from the store even though alcohol is not allowed in the park. Officers will cite those in possession of open alcohol containers and confiscate the booze.
“It shouldn’t be just that an adult brought it to the police attention kind of issue,” Lybarger said. It’s something I feel could potentially have led to a very underage girl being grabbed at the least, but imagine if that girl hadn’t walked away but had stopped, or if that man hadn’t been with that woman. He could have easily grabbed that little girl and, being as intoxicated as they were, (could have) seriously hurt her. And then what? It’s just, ‘Oh leave the park for the day?'”
Lybarger told Gila Valley Central that she initially wrote the open statement so other local parents could ask their children if anything like this had happened to them. As it appears, many parents drop off their children at the skate park, unknowing of the dangers.
Newly elected Safford City Councilor Michel Andazola told Gila Valley Central that he was aware of the incident at Firth Park and has discussed it with other Safford government leaders.
“It was brought to my attention,” Andazola said. “I carried it (the information) back to the mayor and to the city manager, so it’s in their hands right now.”
Jon Johnson contributed to this report.