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S.O.S. Sending Out Scary (texts)

Sunday night on Cape Cod. My parents and I had finished dinner and I was in for the evening. So I thought. My cell phone buzzed, a text from my youngest sister.

SOS!” it read, along with a link to her cell phone’s GPS coordinates in Yarmouth, the next town over. I called her back. No answer.

“I’m coming,” I texted back. Seconds later, a second text.

I need help,” it read, with a link to the same coordinates, along with a 5-second garbled audio message and two blurry photos.

“It’s Meri,” I told my dad. “I think she needs help.”

“Let’s go,” Dad said.

“Mom, we’ll be right back!” I yelled upstairs. I didn’t want her to worry. She worries.

We got into my car and plugged in the coordinates from the text. On the way we passed the Barnstable Police Station.

“I think we should pull in,” I said. Dad agreed.

In the station, their quiet Sunday night was interrupted by our rushed entry. We showed the desk sergeant the alarming texts on my cell phone screen. As we stood there, the sergeant radioed the police in the next town. Dad and I went back to the car and headed for the same coordinates. It was starting to drizzle. The road we were on—the Old Kings Highway—was winding and dark, my headlights just barely illuminating the way ahead.

“What if it’s a scam?” I wondered aloud. “Bad guys luring people to destinations and chopping them up?”

“I doubt it,” Dad said. Still. In my mind I reviewed the contents of my trunk for what could possibly be used as a weapon. A rollerblade? A bike shoe? I’ve been living in New York City too long.

Our destination was a house. Lights on, cars out front. I parked on a neighbor’s lawn. At the same time a police car appeared. The cop was calm as he asked for my name and my sister’s name; he had obviously been briefed. We approached the front door together. He knocked. No answer. He knocked again louder. No response. Even more worried, I suggested, “Let’s just go in.” The cop blinked his flashlight through the glass storm door. Finally a woman appeared, my sister behind her! Seeing an officer at the door, both looked alarmed. When they opened the door there were sounds of soft jazz. We had interrupted a dinner party. I explained about the texts. We were mystified. The cop, seeing everything was OK, left. My sister swore up and down that there was no emergency and that the phone had been in her pocketbook. Despite her utter mortification, it was comforting to know a complex system like that works.


I called Verizon. “How does a cell phone call for emergency assistance on its own?” Turns out, on some phones, if you hit the “home” button three times, the cell phone sends an emergency SOS to a designated contact. But do most people even know about this capacity? While it can be a reassuring feature, it can generate a lot of mischief when accidentally triggered by the contents of a pocketbook. I used to laugh at “butt dialing.” Not anymore.

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