Parents Of Missing Children Reach Out To Each Other Across Nation
HAYWARD, Calif. (AP) _ In the first frenzied hours after Michaela Joy Garecht was kidnapped a year ago Sunday, volunteers and parents of other missing children printed and distributed 42,000 fliers bearing her image.
Millions of fliers later, Michaela is still missing, but efforts by the volunteers, children’s groups, police and FBI continue strong.
More than ever, parents of kidnapped children nationwide are turning to each other for help in mobilizing community support and publicity.
Brought together by one of the cruelest of crimes, they also are comforting each other when the waiting becomes too much and dark thoughts swirl through their minds.
A long table in the Garecht home is filled with newspaper clippings and fliers of Michaela and others who have disappeared and are feared to be victims of molesters and psychopaths.
Sharon Garecht chain-smokes in the dining room near a portrait of her daughter, who’s 10 now - if she lives.
″As more time goes on, it becomes harder to believe that we can find her,″ Mrs. Garecht said. ″The one good thing about the one-year anniversary is it’s putting her and her abductor back in the news. We’re hopeful that will have some effect toward solving the case.
″I’m kind of dreading next week, though. Between having passed the one- year mark and Thanksgiving coming, I’m kind of planning in advance to be depressed.″
The telephone rings. It’s Linda Borer in Willow, Alaska, whose son, David, vanished last April.
The women, linked by tragedies 2,000 miles apart, speak briefly and agree to talk again later. Mrs. Garecht also keeps in touch with the families of Michael Paul Henley, an 11-year-old missing from New Mexico, and Amber Swartz- Garcia, 9, and Ilene Misheloff, 14, two other missing California girls.
″I have found that to be able to help somebody else with this kind of situation has been very helpful for me,″ says Mrs. Garecht, who founded the Michaela Joy Garecht Center to coordinate the search for her daughter and assist other parents of missing children.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, based in Arlington, Va., has recorded 511 abductions by strangers since it opened in June 1984. Of those, 158 children were found alive, 112 dead. Most were sexually abused, authorities say.
The non-profit center says its figures do not represent the scope of the problem of missing children in the United States. It contends many more cases exist than are reported to the group.
Stranger abductions are a small percentage of the 23,899 children who have been reported missing over the past five years, according to the national center. Nearly half are believed to be runaways and ″throwaways.″
David Collins of San Francisco, who led the original flier effort for Michaela, is one of the parents of kidnap victims who have been involved in other children’s cases too. His son Kevin was believed kidnapped nearly six years ago and has never been found.
Last week, he was in Radcliff, Ky., in response to a request from police looking for another missing child - 5-year-old Alexandria Suleski.
Collins, who heads the Kevin Collins Foundation for Missing Children along with his wife, Ann, also visited St. Joseph, Minn., earlier this month, helping organize the search for Jacob Wetterling, an 11-year-old reported abducted at gunpoint near his rural home Oct. 22.
″We have an abduction response team that helps families and communities to distribute fliers and bring a central place and some sanity to the situation,″ said Collins. ″People rush out to help and often don’t know what’s happening, and there’s often a lot of cross efforts.″
Michaela, whose name is pronounced Mi-KAY-la and who was called Kayla for short, had gone with a girlfriend on their scooters to a neighborhood market. After coming out of the store, Michaela noticed one of the scooters had been moved. She went to get it, and a man jumped out from a dented beige car next to it, threw her into the car and sped away.
The girlfriend said Michaela, a tall, slender blonde with blue eyes, was grabbed by an acne-scarred, longhaired blond man believed to be between 18 and his early 20s.
There have been no ransom notes or calls from the kidnapper. Hayward Police investigators and the FBI, each working full-time on the case as part of an area task force on missing children, have received 15,000 tips. Rewards total $90,000, but authorities say they are not close to finding Michaela.
Mrs. Garecht said people have told her to put the kidnapping behind her, but she said neither she nor others have that option.
″As long as she’s missing, she may be alive somewhere,″ she said. ″If she is alive, then I can’t let her down. I have to do whatever I can to find her. And her kidnapper is still out there and he may do it again.″