Someone asked me in a comment on my previous blog how this picture, which looks so much like Michaela, makes me feel. Well, it makes me feel outrageously hopeful. There is this "wisdom" among law enforcement that if a missing child is not found within the first 24, 48, 72 hours, then he or she is probably no longer alive. In many cases, this is true, whether the sick person who kidnapped them does this because it is expedient so the child can't describe him (or her), or whether it is part of their sick fantasy.
But there are other scenarios that don't get the stamp of credibility from law enforcement, simply because the kids are not often found. One is like Jaycee's ... that this sick person keeps the child. The other is given even less credibility, and that is that the child is kidnapped by a ring of pedophiles. Human trafficking has become all the rage as a cause in the last few years, but for some reason missing children are largely left out of this equation. In either of these cases, the child can remain alive indefinitely. The fact is that even though only a handful of these children may be found, that doesn't mean that dozens of them might not still be out there, waiting to be found. That Elizabeth Smart and Shawn Hornbeck were found alive probably didn't change the minds of the investigators in El Dorado County, who had pretty much decided Jaycee Dugard was not alive and could not be found. But their opinion didn't change the fact that she was. If there are any other law enforcement agencies out there who haven't revised their opinions of their own cases after Jaycee was found, they need to do some reevaluating.
If this is a photograph of Michaela and it was taken two years after she was kidnapped, I am happy because she seems to be well, and that she is not bound and captive somewhere. The other lead I mentioned involved Michaela having been identified as having been in Mexico, in the company of people known to be part of a ring of pedophiles and traffickers in child pornography. There is no scenario which makes me happy. I know that nine year old girls are not kidnapped to be adopted by nice childless families.
But the point is that in either of these very possible scenarios, which are based not on my wishes or imaginings but on actual leads, Michaela could very well still be alive in this world somewhere. And this is a major point. Michaela's case has never really fallen into the "cold case" category. In order for the case to become truly cold, the leads would have to have run out, the trail gone cold. In Michaela's case, those leads keep coming in, and there have been so many of them over the years, not all have been run down to their conclusion because there simply hasn't been time for it ... and occasionally, apparently not the motivation on the part of whoever was in charge at the moment.
But cases cool also because they no longer seem as important. This happens with missing children because law enforcement buys into the notion that if the child isn't found in the first 72 hours they are no longer alive. In the early days of an investigation into a missing child case, the efforts are extraordinary, because everyone is set on rescuing the child. But a year later, ten years later, twenty years later, they most often are not thinking that the child still needs rescuing.
We would hope that Jaycee has changed that, always and forever.
There are people at the Hayward Police Department whose hearts and souls are dedicated to finding Michaela. To them, the case is warm and alive. They believe it is necessary to solve it, and they believe it is possible to solve it, but barring some miracle, it will take a lot of work to follow down a lot of the leads we have to their conclusion. With regard to this photo, who knows? It may be that the girl in this photo can be traced easily. Perhaps it will be easy to find the name of the people who lived in that house, and they will have put in changes of addresses with the post office and the DMV. Perhaps the girl attended school, and that school will have forwarded her records from place to place over the years. Oh, and perhaps all these institutions will still have these records after all this time. This is all unlikely, however. If it is Michaela and these people had a missing child in their possession, it's not likely they have left a clear trail of their legal names and residences. Mmm, not impossible. Garrido never hid his identity. But it's less likely to be the case. And the other difficulty here is that most agencies and institutions do not keep records for 21 years. So the trail here may be cold, and it might be difficult to trace the girl in this photo. As for the lead in Mexico, it would be even more difficult, particularly since it is in another country, and that lead is also very old with some of those involved now deceased.
The other possible miracle, the one I continue to hope for, is that Michaela herself will see that I am still looking for her and will reach out to us.
But barring miracles, like I said, it will take a lot of work on each of these leads, and on several other really good leads. It will take a lot of time, man-hours and resources. Sometimes law enforcement agencies find it difficult to justify that expenditure of time and money. Often there are fewer people working on the case in the first place, and those involved in the investigation of an older case are pulled off that case to work on more recent cases ... and you know no cases are wrapped up in an hour minus commercials, like CSI would have us believe. Even if they know whodunit, it takes a long time.
Police departments need to change this way of thinking, however. If a case is truly cold and there is nothing to work on, no leads to follow that haven't already been followed, that's fine. But if that is not the case, then these missing children deserve whatever time and resources are needed to follow up on every viable lead. Michaela has been missing for almost 23 years now, but she is still a victim. If she is alive, then she is no less important than any other victim, however recent the other cases may be. The same is true for all other missing kids.
We have had Jaycee's case, and she was gone for by far the longest time, but she is far from alone. There are other missing children, who were all missing for long periods of time. They were all kept by their abductors in situations where they had some relative freedom, yet were never mentally free enough to escape. They will tell you that they were waiting, longing for someone to come and rescue them, and yet were unable to break free. Shawn Hornbeck even read letters his parents wrote him and published on the internet, but for almost five years even this did not give him the strength to escape.
This is not in any way to criticize missing children for not escaping their captors when they have a chance. It is not at all unusual. It is an established fact that missing children rarely do escape, even though they may have the opportunity. This is one of the most important facts that must be considered by law enforcement in these investigations! These children are out there, longing for rescue! Don't give up on them!
In Elizabeth's case, she was rescued. The lead which led to this was apparently at first discounted by the police department. Her sister, who had witnessed the investigation, suddenly realized that she'd heard the voice of the kidnapper before. Her parents had to run with this lead, had to have a composite sketch created of a homeless man they'd hired to work around their house, had to publicize it. Someone called in his real name, and when he was picked up, Elizabeth was with him, in disguise.
Shawn and Steven and Jaycee were rescued only accidentally. Steven had been a captive of his abductor, attending public school all the while, pretty close to where he was abducted, using his own birth date, for over seven years, when his kidnapper took another young boy. Steven, in an act of pure courage, took that boy to the police department. What he hadn't been able to do for himself, he was able to do for the younger boy. In the end, he was responsible for his own rescue.
Shawn was found also when another child was kidnapped by his abductor, and the investigation into the other child's kidnapping led to his rescue. (This small pattern was one of the things that made me so hopeful that Michaela would be found when Jaycee was.) But in the cases of both Steven and Shawn, if their kidnappers had never taken a second child, they may have lived out their lives with their abductors. They may have spent 18 years in captivity, like Jaycee did. They may have spent 23 years in captivity, but they would still have been alive and they would still have been longing to be rescued ... like Michaela perhaps?
We need to take these lessons of these previous children seriously. Law enforcement and the powers that be need to understand that just because they haven't been found in a given amount of time, that does not mean that they are not alive, and it does not mean that they are not victims who are in dire need of help! And just because it has been awhile, this does not mean they are any less desperate to be rescued. They are VICTIMS as deserving of the dedication of time and resources as any other victim. Il am all in favor of hunting down thieves and other criminals. But don't forget the children!
Help them, please. Do not give up on them.
And one final word to Michaela ... and also to any other missing child old there who may be reading this ... those missing children who have been found have all had opportunities to escape from their captors. They didn't. Please understand, this is an entirely normal thing. They haven't had to explain this to anybody, and neither will you. But please also understand that just because you haven't been rescued, it does not mean that nobody cares. It does not mean that nobody is looking for you, that our hearts and souls do not desperately want you, do not desperately desire your happiness, your safety, and most of all it does not mean that we do not love you in the most desperate, all consuming way. WE DO. WE LOVE YOU. WE WANT YOU! WE ARE SEARCHING FOR YOU! Everything is okay, I promise. You will be safe. You will be loved. Please, please just come home.
Michaela, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or post a comment on this blog. Call me at 510-461-0470. (For everyone else, please don't call this number unless you know for sure where Michaela is at this time. If you have any other lead, please e-mail me or you can post an anonymous comment on this blog. I assure you, I get e-mails as quickly as I get phone calls, and I always answer them.)
I love you forever, Michaela. Never, ever doubt that.