Monday, February 20, 2012

To My Readers

I have not actually spent 23 years believing Michaela is still alive. For a long time I was convinced that if she was actually alive, she would have found some way to contact me. For a long time I was also convinced that it would probably actually be better for her if she was not alive, because that would mean that her suffering, her fear and terror, her sadness and loneliness, would have ended and she would have spent all these years in a better place where she would be at peace. You know, it's never really been about MY feelings. It's never been about what I want. What has devastated me about my daughter being kidnapped is not that I have missed her, but that SHE has suffered.

Then as the years passed, various things happened and I began to have a new understanding of what might have happened, what might be possible. There were kids who had been kidnapped, who had been gone for various lengths of time, who had been found and had returned to their families. Steven Stayner had been found before Michaela was kidnapped, after having been kidnapped for seven years. For those who refer to a "fairytale" ending, Steven's story shows us the real nature of hope, that we hope and have faith no matter what, because it wasn't really a fairy tale for him even after he came home, and he ended up dying young in a motorcycle accident. But this young man wrote me a letter, which I still have around here somewhere, and this is what he told me about Michaela ... "never give up." 

I didn't always heed his words. I did give up, for awhile. But then there were a few other kids who were found. Elizabeth Smart was found. She'd been missing for only nine months, but if someone hadn't found her she'd have likely stayed missing. She is an extremely intelligent and beautiful young woman, has become the most gracious spokesperson for missing children's causes, and yet she stayed with her captors, unable to grasp those opportunities for freedom because they had her convinced she couldn't.  Shawn Hornbeck was found, and gave perhaps the first glimpse into just how and why these kids could stay missing, why they would not contact their families, go home.  Shawn's parents were perhaps the first parents of a missing child who thought to write letters to him on their website. And Shawn actually read those letters! He not only read them, he responded to them anonymously, and in his responses he suggested that perhaps they wouldn't want their son back if they knew what he had done, what had been done to him. This was the first time I understood that these kids can become so ashamed of the lives they have been forced to live, they think that their families wouldn't want them anymore. And I began to first think that perhaps Michaela could still be alive and not have contacted me, that however strong and intelligent I knew her to be, she was just a child, and her spirit could have been broken, especially given the extended time period she'd been gone. She could have been lied to, could have been convinced that those lies were truth.

Then, of course, Jaycee was found. She'd been missing for seventeen years!!! Jaycee's case changed the paradigm. I remember even the morning that the news broke that she'd been found, I called a former reporter who'd covered Michaela's case, now retired from reporting and living in Lake Tahoe, near Jaycee's home town. He called some contacts of his and called me back, and said that no, they are still convinced that Jaycee is dead and her stepdad killed her. But that was not true. She was alive. 

And I had to believe, for Michaela's sake, that she could still be alive. You know what, people, that is not an easy thing to do. It is really so, so much easier to say, "I think she's probably not alive, and she's probably in a better place." That way you can grieve, get over it, get on with life. Holding onto hope is WORK, hard, backbreaking, spirit killing WORK. I don't think I would have been able to do it without the love and help of so many others, from my family and friends to those people who read my blog and facebook pages. Honestly, there were many times I wanted to just set that hope down somewhere and walk away from it, and whenever I did, someone would come along, without even knowing, and say something along the lines of, "Don't ever give up, Sharon. You have to keep believing for your daughter." And I'd actually feel irritated by it sometimes! I'd want to say, "No, I can't, I'm tired, I'm broken, I just can't keep doing this, just leave me alone!" But I didn't. I'd pick up that big fat lead balloon of hope and I'd hoist it up on my shoulders once again, and I'd keep trudging on, keep looking for my daughter, keep trying to reach out for her. And you know what? It's worth it. It's worth all the hard work and grief, because if she is still alive out there somewhere, she NEEDS me to hold onto her, she needs me to keep focusing that hope and love on her. And not me only, but all you friends and family members who continue to do that also! 

If she is not alive and we keep on believing, keep on hoping, keep on searching, it isn't going to hurt a doggone person, except for perhaps me. It won't hurt Michaela. And even though someone made a comment on the age progression blog that she hoped my kids had turned out healthy even though they had a a mother like me, it is absolutely NOT going to hurt my family for me to continue to focus all this love and hope on Michaela. This is what my family learns from this -- they learn that whatever may come, I will always love them, that if ever they need help, I will always be looking for a way to give it to them. I used to tell Michaela, "If ever you are sad or lonely and I'm not there, just touch your heart and you will find me there." Well, my other kids know this, because they have seen it with Michaela, and they know it is true for them as well. They know love is forever. Love never gives up.

Recently this lead has come up about Herzog and all those bones found buried in wells on his property. Herzog has a resemblance to our composite, and his buddy Shermantine made a reference to that. And for some reason, people started wanting me to say that I thought Herzog had killed Michaela. People wanted me to say that I thought her bones would be found among those in the wells. People wanted me to long for this to be the answer at long last. But you know what? I didn't feel that. And the facts didn't make it likely to be true. First of all, Herzog's victims were all adults. Michaela didn't fit the profile. Second, Shermantine, the guy who was pointing to where the bones were, never said that he knew anything about where Michaela was, just commented that Herzog looked like our composite. See, I knew that because I had actually read those letters instead of just watching the news. I also knew that Shermantine had later specifically reiterated that he didn't know anything about Michaela's case. And when you get right down to it, Herzog lacked one marked identifying feature that the eyewitness commented on in Michaela's kidnapper, and that was severe acne, which looked almost like boils on his face. Even in Herzog's older photos, his skin looked pretty clear -- certainly didn't look like he had boils on his face. 

I had the facts and I had the intuition, and I was positive that it wasn't Herzog, and I honestly didn't think that finding my daughters "remains" was considered "hopeful," and for some reason there were people who just insisted on being unhappy about my resolve that Michaela's remains were not likely to be found in the well.

Then I did get some leads that were hopeful, and I posted those for the express purpose of asking for help from the people who read my blog, who are from all over the world (even the UAE), and what is the first comment I get? It's from someone who has to say that he's sure this lead is nothing, that someone is obviously playing me by pretending that they are different people with e-mail addresses in Russia and yada yada. Well, it makes no sense to me that someone would go to that kind of trouble to "play me" with a lead about Michaela. There is no reason for it, and in 23 years I honestly haven't had the experience of people being either that invested or that cruel to do such a thing. And again, there are facts I knew that the reader didn't, and again, there are intuitions I have, which I even mentioned in the blog, but let's just forget all of that, right?

I am really disturbed by the kind of comments I have been receiving here lately. My mother always quoted "what Thumper says," which is "If you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all." And if the wisdom of Disney isn't enough for you, let's go with Hippocrates, "First, do no  harm." Please feel free to sit in your chair and believe whatever you want to believe, but please don't feel a need to burden me with it. I have quite enough burdens already, thank you. And more to the point, do not take it upon yourself to do anything, anything at all, that could in any way damage Michaela's cause or her case, and anytime you pooh pooh the likelihood of her being alive or of a lead (or leads) having any meaning, you are doing that, because of the ever so slight possibility that you could dissuade some one person somewhere from reposting the information or helping in whatever way they could. "Oh, they said Michaela is in the UAE, and I did see a girl there who looked like she could have been Michaela, but I'm not sure I want to get involved, and this guy here said oh probably that's just someone playing you, and he's probably right, so I won't call this information in." 

You know, I'm actually a very logical person, and I'm also a very intelligent person. I am a paralegal, and it is my job to analyze situations and cases, to assemble evidence, and draw a conclusion. I don't set aside this ability when it comes to my daughter's case. I don't often give out information about the case or leads, and if I do give out information, if I do say something about the case, you can bet your bottom dollar that it's been thought out well. You can also remember that I know lots and lots and lots about the case. I know about the lead I'm telling you and I know about many other leads, including about six which are considered the "primary" suspects or scenarios still under investigation. So I am far more aware than you are of the alternative realities, and also of the way other alternative realities may fit into the one I choose to share for whatever reason. So the bottom line is that whatever your own thoughts or agenda may be, you should never fail to respect my words, and actually read all of my words. Most often when I get these responses, it's a case of someone having taken a single aspect of something I've said and picked that apart, rather than actually considering the big picture. 

I do not know whether Michaela is alive or not. But if she is, she needs me, and she needs you to help by continuing to share my words to her with as many people as you can, as far and wide as you can, so that perhaps she will see them one day. To all of you who continue to do that, I thank you. To all of you who have encouraged me and helped me to keep this burden of hope aloft, you have my undying gratitude. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And to Michaela, wherever you are, I love you forever, in every way, in every world. 


  1. Thank you Sharon for sharing this. I will stand by you all the way and I will always have hope of Michaela being found. I keep posting on my facebook about Michaela and I will continue until she is found. You and your family are always in my prayers and I believe a miracle is on the way.

    God Bless you always
    from Thelma Mandera

  2. Sharon
    Good for you. I cannot believe the comments you have been getting. It's not so much the ideas expressed, but the attacking and callous nature of what's written. I think people forget that they are talking directly to a real person who has gone through such a tremendous amount of pain. I wanted to post some thoughts I had on the Shermantine case, but decided against it as it was really just speculation/theories resulting from what I have read on the internet. I don't feel that it is for me to put my amateur ideas in your consciousness. What could I possibly tell you that you don't already know? Keep hoping Sharon, if that is what your heart tells you to do. I along with many others keep that flame of hope alive with you. And thank you for sharing so much with us and writing so beautifully and so eloquently every time.
    Sending love from England

  3. Never in my life have I read a more accurate description of the daunting task of holding onto hope. Seeing you articulate these difficult ideas were almost a relief-- even if it's not necessarily the most joyous of topics-- it's always reassuring when somebody 'hits the nail right on the head.' I'm glad you found the right words to express what you were feeling and share it with us....

    ...and then I got so infuriated when I read the types of comments you have been getting and the beliefs people attempt to force upon you. How dare they? People certainly have a right to their ideas and opinions but this isn't a CNN message board. You are Michaela's MOTHER, a person with feelings and emotions, a person who has been through hell. This should be a place where people come to support YOU. If others wish to be cruel, take it to another forum. Have some respect and compassion for another human being. Such cruelty makes me angry and hurts my heart.

    I'm going to word this very cautiously as I don't want to seem like I am deterring anyone from sharing information if they have it....but information and opinions are two totally different things. Please, please, please share information-- no matter how 'trivial' or farfetched it may seem! Opinions [and case theory], however, should be handled with tact.

    If anyone reading this absolutely has to express a negative belief to Sharon, do it privately. Don't act like a highly visible blog comment is the only way you know how to communicate with her. And for God's sake, watch your language. I'm not saying that we should all walk on eggshells around Sharon and whisper behind her back....but have some respect.

    ~ Sloane

  4. You have every right to feel as you do. I am a mother of a 2 year old and I freak out when he hurts himself or something I could not imagine ever not knowing where my child was. I would become a basket case if I had to go through what your going through. No one knows what your going through unless this has happened to them. The never knowing and the thoughts that come into your mind would be enough to put me in a mental hospital and it doesnt help If you have a very active imagination. Just knowing that any joyful moment you have somewhere out there horrible thi gs could be going on to your baby. How would ever be able to feel happiness again? You couldn't. No one knows what you deal with mentally on a daily basis no one has that pit of your stomach fear and sickness like a mother who is dealing with this. To still have hope after all these years is not really strange or fairy tale like at all. This is what mothers do !!!

  5. I have to say something, if she was my daughter I would not stop searching for her until I found her. I would not give up, and to the people that would tell you otherwise must not be a parent. A bond between a mother and child can't be broken by time, it wouldn't matter what I had to do, and I would keep the search going. In your heart you know she is out there, and for us as readers, we need to just keep posting her picture over and over, to help with the search. To the people that say to give up hope, or want to leave rude comments, if they are not going to help spread the word, they need to get off of the page!

  6. Sharon, you are such a strong woman, and an incredibly smart woman. Jaycee proves to us that miracles do happen, and hope is never wrong to latch onto. I, like you, have to believe she is still out there, but unable or perhaps not allowed to get a hold of you. I think of cases like Amy Bradley, and the many sightings of her years after she was stolen from a cruise ship. Survival is sometimes hard to fathom, but again, Jaycee proves what you is possible. Hugs to you and as usual, I will be praying for Michaela, you and your family.

    Paula - Peoria IL

  7. It makes me so sad for you that some people are so cruel!! I pray every day for Michaela and you and I look at your blog every day hoping you have found something out!! I pray for that day to come soon!!!

    Brandis Payne

  8. Just wanted to send my thoughts to you and to say what an inspirational person you are to never give up hope, you must be a very strong woman. I wish for a happy ending very soon.

  9. You are proof that we never, ever stop loving our children. I hope and pray that Michaela is out there and that she is reading all of your wonderful messages, feels your love, and finds a way to come home. Many, many hugs to you.


  10. Sharon, I don't think the intention of that poster (Mike) was to be cruel. He is a software engineer and he understands that it might be easy to fake as if emails came from other places. That does not mean that is what happened, and he is looking at it from a very technical point of view rather than holistic point of view. I am also a software engineer. Is there any way to take Mike's points and prove/disprove them objectively? Can you find the IP address of the computer that sent the email? If you have seen shows like Criminal Minds, you can see how that can be faked as well, but it would have to be a criminal mind to go to the lengths to fake that, and not a prank or simple hacker. You can enlist the help of some good hacker/ guy/gal for this. Maybe even Mike! If you can show definitively that it did originate from there (or perhaps you have already done that), then you get closer to proving that this is a very solid lead. I hope this email has not upset you in anyway. I think this is a step by step process, that needs to be unraveled in a slow, and methodical manner. - Abby.

  11. I don't think his intention was to be cruel. I think he was just being cynical. I did trace the IP address, but that doesn't mean anything, since I know my IP address at work shows I am on the other side of the country. But there was a ton of information on the internet about this guy. We know what he does for a living, and how he earns money on the side, and about his child, his birth date, where he lives, his home phone number, his cell phone number, and all sorts of information. He is also hooked into lots of different websites to do with a hobby of his. This is definitely not a case of someone setting up a fake e-mail pretending to look like it's coming from another country. So we know where the e-mail originated. It originated in Russia. And I definitely do consider it to be a valid lead. Of course, it is not impossible that this guy could have seen a girl in the UAE that he thought to be Michaela, and wasn't. We have had leads like that in the past, where people have thought perhaps someone they knew was Michaela -- even one where a woman thought she herself might be Michaela. But the only way to find that out is to find the young woman to whom he is referring.

  12. As a mother, we "know" and we "sense" things about our children. I truly believe if you "sensed" Michaela had passed away, you wouldn't be where you are today. Sharon,YOU WILL FIND HER and you will embark on a new journey. Keep doing what your doing! All will be revealed in due time.

  13. Hi Sharon,

    This Middle East website runs a lot of human interest related stories -

    Maybe you can get in touch with them to tell your story?


  14. Hi Sharon,
    I just found your blog but I want to tell you that ever since the day Michaela disappeared she has been in my thoughts and I have always hoped that you would find her. When she was kidnapped I lived in San Lorenzo (I was familiar with the Rainbow Market) and was only a year older than her. She impacted my life even though I had never met her. You, your family and Michaela will always be in my thoughts and prayers.

  15. It must be really hard getting so many critical comments and to continue to put yourself out there again and again all for Michaela. I think that is why so many people read your put so much of yourself out there and your love for your children is so amazing. You are the epitome of a dedicated mother. Eventually I know your perserverance and patience will pay off!

    Ps so glad you posted the country lead. I believe a former highschool classmate of mine lives there now, so I am eager to track her down and share Michaela's info with her.

  16. I do not mean to sound like a smartass, but Herzog and Shermantine were addicted to methamphetamine. Meth often causes cystic boils on the face because of its toxicity. When I was using meth, my face broke out, would clear up, and would come back again. On and off. Even if Herzog's face looked clear in his photographs, he may have had a breakout around the time of Michaela's abduction, assuming he did abduct Michaela (I hope not.) I hope this comment doesn't offend you - just some thought. You are a wonderful mother.

    1. wow u really have a good point there