Thursday, May 10, 2007

Lost... And Found, Years Later!

When children go missing, a lot of times they are found within a few hours. In fact, just a few days ago a missing preschooler was found only a few hours later, asleep behind a building. However, authorities say that the first few hours are critical when a child is missing. If an abductor is going to murder a child, it will be done within the first few hours. Sadly, when children are missing for long amounts of time, it is often assumed that the children are dead.
But more and more, recently, missing children are being found, alive, years after they went missing! Here are a few cases like that.

1980 - After being missing for 7 years, 14-year-old Steven Stayner walks into a police station with another missing child, 5-year-old Timmy White. Steven was kidnapped at age 7 by Kenneth Parnell, a man who told Steven that his parents no longer wanted him, made the boy call him "Dad," and subjected him to years of abuse. When Parnell eventually kidnapped another child, Steven began to realize what had happened, and he escaped with Timmy. It was the longest stranger abduction with a safe return, in US history.

2003 - 15-year-old Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped out of her own bed 9 months earlier, is found in the company of her kidnapper, a mentally ill man who practiced a radical religion and claimed God had told him to take Elizabeth as his wife. Elizabeth was often out in public with the kidnapper, but was disguised and not allowed to speak.

2004 - A woman named Luz Cuevas attends a birthday party for an acquaintance, where she notices a 6-year-old girl that bears a strong resemblence to Luz's own daughter, who supposedly died in a fire 6 years earlier. Luz tells the child she has bubble gum in her hair, in order to remove a piece of hair as a DNA sample. Authorities are able to find out that the child at the party really is Luz'z daughter, Delimar. The story is very strange... When her baby was only a month or so old, their home caught fire. Luz ran to Delimar's room to get her, but found that the baby was not in her crib, and was no where to be found. After the fire destroyed the house, police concluded that Delimar had died in the fire and that her body had been "consumed" by the fire. No traces of Delimar's body were ever found. It turned out that the kidnapper was Delimar's father's cousin by marriage. The kidnapper had taken the baby, set the house on fire, and then raised the baby as her own.

2006 - In Austria, 18-year-old Natascha Kampusch, kidnapped on her way to school at the age of 10, manages to escape from her kidnapper. Natascha was kept by her kidnapper in a tiny, hidden room that served as her bedroom. He eventually did take her out in public, including on a skiing trip, but it was not until 2006 that she managed to escape.

2006 - Tanya Kash, by then 24 years old, escapes from the man who held her captive for 10 years. Tanya originally ran away from home to stay with the man, who worked as a security guard at her school. Although at the time she felt that she was in love with the man, when the teenager did want to leave, she was not allowed to. She was kept hidden in a room in the man's house, and when she went out in public she went by the name of Nikki Evans. At the age of 24 she told a neighborhood friend her true identity, which led to her rescue.

2007 - Shawn Hornbeck, kidnapped while riding his bike at the age of 11, is found alive in an apartment where he's been living since the time of the kidnapping. Like Steven Stayner, Shawn was told to call his kidnapper "Dad". He was allowed to have friends in the neighborhood and socialize, but was made to go by the alias "Shawn Devlin," using his kidnapper's last name. When another boy, 13-year-old Ben Ownby, was kidnapped by the same man, authorities were able to track Ben to the apartment. When they came to rescue Ben, Shawn told them who he was, and he was rescued too.

These children were found, but there must be more like them still. After all, what are the chances that every single missing child who is still alive has already been found? These kids' stories are proof that we should never stop keeping our eyes open for missing kids.

I'd also like to add a little editorial here about cases like this.
Delimar was kidnapped as a newborn and raised to believe that her kidnapper was her mother, so nobody was surprised that the 6-year-old thought she was someone else. But in the cases of the other kids... Steven, Elizabeth, Natascha, Tanya, and Shawn... when they were finally found, it seemed like the public was more intent on scrutinizing the kids themselves than celebrating the fact that they are alive. "Why didn't you just escape? Why didn't you tell someone who you are?" talk show hosts demand. "Were you brainwashed? Were you tortured? Was there sexual abuse?" They seem almost hopeful that the children went through horrid ordeals. If a child ever had the audacity to say, "Actually, I lived a normal life, I was happy, and I was never harmed," the public would be outraged! It seems a little backwards to me.

My advice? Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Be glad that children like these were found, and be hopeful that there are more like them. I highly doubt that the parents of these kids are at home interrogating the children about why they didn't try harder to escape. Perhaps, like Steven Stayner, the were told that their parents no longer wanted them. Perhaps, like Elizabeth Smart, they were told that they or their family members would be hurt or killed if they ever tried to run. Perhaps some of them were runaways. Tanya Kach originally ran away from home to be with her kidnapper, but that doesn't change the fact that he was an adult who took advantage of her.

Reporters and talk show hosts need to have more sensitivity towards what these kids have been through. If you were fifteen years old, would you want it broadcast on "Oprah" that you were sexually abused? Would you want to have to relive the story over and over, in front of a bloodthirsty audience, for the rest of your life?

Just be glad that these kids are safe... and hope that the rest of them will be foun safe, as well.


kel said...

Hi Nikki, thanks for stopping by my blog and for your kind and supportive words. I read some of your blog and found it fascinating, Im curious as to what brought you to write about these topics? Thanks again for sharing!!


Anonymous said...

Well said. I hope people take your message to heart.