The rash of child kidnappings exposed this week in Shenzhen is far worse than thought. As many as 23 schoolchildren have been kidnapped this year, not five, and three killed, a government employee who works closely with police said. Police have confirmed only four kidnappings, two of them fatal. A senior officer said kidnappings 'dramatically increased' this year, but would not say how many involved children. Another officer said authorities 'generally did not release exact numbers of crimes like kidnap or rape' to avoid sowing panic. However, many parents are already alarmed by the kidnappings, which have targeted children from wealthy families attending primary and middle schools in the Futian and Nanshan districts. 'We are scared by all the rumours, but we can't get the truth from police. Some people even said hundreds of children were kidnapped,' said one mother in Nanshan. 'When schools told parents to take good care of their children in October, we didn't know how serious the problem was until we read in newspapers that at least two children were killed.' Kidnappers held in July told police they prepared for two months before taking 11-year-old Cao Zongkai on June 24 as he walked home from Nanshan Foreign Language School. But police did not disclose the gang's tactics until after another 11-year-old was taken in October. He was killed even after his parents paid a US$500,000 ransom. Both boys were dragged into vans seen outside their schools months earlier. Several suspects have separately told police interrogators they used tactics copied from last year's hit Hong Kong film The Beast Stalker, directed by Dante Lam Chiu-yin and starring Nick Cheung Ka-fai. A police officer in Futian gave a chilling insight into how the kidnappers operate. He said children were often abducted by people living nearby, or acquaintances of their parents, because the children were prepared to trust them. He said the majority of children in these cases were killed since they could identify their kidnappers. 'Almost all the children kidnapped were walking alone outside their schools when the crimes happened,' the unnamed officer was quoted as saying by the Guangzhou Daily. 'Primary-school children aged between nine and 11 are the highest-risk group. Older children are stronger and could resist the kidnappers, while abductors wouldn't consider younger kids who weren't able to take care of themselves.' Deputy police chief Shen Shaobao said abductions had 'dramatically increased' this year. Between January and April there were 184 cases, Shen said, but he would not say how many there were last year or since April, or how many involved children. Police had arrested 9,374 people on suspicion of kidnapping in the first six months of the year, which he said represented a 'huge increase'. The police's handling of the kidnappings, and the revelation that some kidnappers had hung around schools for months before snatching a child, has angered parents. Lei Xinping , an adviser to the government, said police had an obligation to tell the public about major crimes and new crime trends. 'So many people were unaware of the danger because police did not sound the alarm. The situation would be very different if parents were told about the rising number of young hostages,' The Southern Metropolis News quoted him as saying. Authorities are now taking some action. Police have begun a campaign to improve safety around schools. The Nanshan government will erect surveillance cameras outside all kindergartens and schools.