Approximately 60 people attended a meeting held last Wednesday evening at the Cherry Grove Community Center to learn about level three predatory sex offender George Robert Van Fossen's relocation to the rural Spring Valley community.

The meeting was called and offered to the public by the Fillmore County Sheriff's Office, the Fillmore County Attorney's Office and the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC). Various local authorities and school representatives were in attendance at the meeting, including several members of the Fillmore County Sheriff's office, Sarah Monroe of Fillmore County's Victim Services, Ostrander and Fountain Police Chief Tom Mosher, Kingsland Elementary Principal Chris Priebe and Kingsland counselor Kay Haugerud.

Registered predatory offender Van Fossen has, according to the authorities, temporarily relocated to the vicinity of 193rd Avenue and 166th Street while seeking a home in Rochester. Van Fossen, a 56-year-old white male, was convicted of sexual contact with a minor female, age 8, whom he knew. Contact included sedation and penetration, as noted by a fact sheet distributed as notification of his release in Minnesota.

DOC representative Michele Murphy presented an outline of the Minnesota predatory offender registration program and the difference between supervised release and registration - supervised release requires that an offender report to a probation officer or other authority.

Registration records where an offender lives, works and attends school, what he drives, his appearance, and other pertinent information in order to keep the public informed. The main reason the public is being notified of his relocation to the area is because he is classified as a level three offender.

A level one offender's release would spur notification of victims, witnesses and families, a level two offender's release would include such notification and also that of groups of people likely to be victimized by the offender, and level three involves public notification of members of the community in which he lives.

According to Murphy and the fact sheet handed out to meeting attendees, the Fillmore County Sheriff's Office, now Van Fossen's supervising release agent, and the Minnesota Department of Corrections may not share information regarding where he resides, where he goes to work, school or church, or what vehicle he drives, as he is not wanted by the police and has served his sentence.

As a registered offender, however, he must report to the sheriff's office any changes in his appearance, his primary or secondary address, employment and other pertinent details and cannot possess a firearm.

Van Fossen was released on March 20, 2011, and is no longer under supervision, but is required to register as a predatory offender until March 20, 2021. If he is arrested for any reason, his registration period starts over.

Murphy stated that Van Fossen has been compliant in reporting his whereabouts and plans to reside in a specific community, and that if he were to choose not to comply, it would not take long before law enforcement learns of his disappearance or conduct.

She also pointed out that wherever Van Fossen or other level three offenders move to, the community they leave is relieved, but another meeting is held in the new location and new concerns are raised by prospective neighbors.

Murphy instructed worried parents not to focus entirely on Van Fossen's presence in the county - as there are currently 148 offenders in Fillmore County, 17 of whom live in Spring Valley - and reminded them that the majority of offenders are "people who have a social acquaintance or relationship" with the people they choose to assault.

She warned attendees not to approach Van Fossen or any other person who seems to be committing an assault or other crime, but to call 911 instead.

"We were raised to believe that 911 is only for an emergency, but if you see someone doing something that seems suspicious, that is an emergency," she added.

Murphy advised parents to monitor their neighborhoods and "be vigilant" about community safety, beginning with communication between parent and child - be it young children or teenagers - and close observation of a child's emotions, body language and possessions.

She stated to watch for signs of sexual abuse in children, which could include a young child suddenly not wanting to be with a particular adult or if a particular adult takes an interest in a certain child. Another may be that the child does not want to be hugged or held, or if a teenager shows a change in personality or appears with a very expensive item that nobody in the family could have been able to afford. Then, it is time to ask questions.

She also shared ways to prepare young children to be in charge of their bodies, such as her family's "swimsuit rule," which states that nobody, except parents, certain adults and the doctor are allowed to touch them where their swimsuit covers and only for specific reasons such as to help them get dressed or cleaned up or examined if they are ill or injured.

Murphy then reiterated that vigilance and community watch, along with getting the facts instead of fearing a predatory offender, are the best tools to assure public safety.

At the meeting's close, a member of the audience "thanked Fillmore County's finest" for being willing to hold the meeting and provide answers and protection to residents of the county.

Murphy provided the Fillmore County Sheriff's Office phone number, (507) 765-3874, a state website, www.doc.state.mn.us - on which persons may find more information under "Level Three Predatory Offender Information" - and once again reminded attendees that reporting a suspected crime by calling 911 is more useful than passing it by.