A Dream Within a Dream

“All we are and all we seem is but a dream within a dream.”

The quote is from Peter Weir’s 1975 film, “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” which concerns the sudden disappearance of three schoolgirls (one of whom is found a week later, but cannot remember a thing) and their governess during a day trip to Hanging Rock on St. Valentine’s Day, in the year 1900.

Missing! – The Search for Lost Girls

We’ve all seen the flyers:  Big bold letters that cry out “Missing!”  A photograph of the girl – posed smiling brightly, chin in hand – and a brief description – height, weight, hair, eyes.  Last seen… Please call…  Faces of missing girls started appearing on milk cartons in the 80’s.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in 2001, 840,279 persons – adults and juveniles – were reported missing and entered into the FBI’s national crime computer.  As many as 725,000 of those reported missing were juveniles.  On average, 2,000 children per day were reported missing to law enforcement in 2001, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.  While most missing children are eventually returned safely to their parents, a small group of them are victims of more predatory abductors.  The average victim of abduction and murder is a “low risk” 11-year-old girl from a middle-class neighborhood with a stable family relationship who has initial contact with an abductor within one-quarter mile of her home – this is according to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.

The Polly Klaas Foundation and Website

The Polly Klaas Foundation is a national nonprofit that helps find missing children and also works to prevent children from going missing in the first place. They accomplish this by promoting public policies, educating the public, and providing families, law enforcement, and communities with the ongoing support and expertise needed to protect children.  The website provides links for parents of missing children, including instructions of who to call if your child is missing, suggestions for recovery for parents whose child is gone, a flyer template, and a missing child form.  Also listed on the site are hundreds and hundreds of lost girls, some who may have been taken by a family member, some who seem to have been abducted by a predator, some who probably just ran away, and some whose bodies have been found but whose murderers have not yet been caught.

Some Famously Searched-for Girls

Ashley Pond (12) and Miranda Gaddis (13), friends who went missing in Oregon City, Oregon.  Ashley vanished walking to school January 9, 2002, and Miranda disappeared two months later.

Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, 10-year-old girls who, in their red Manchester United T-shirts, dark trousers, and Nike trainers went missing in Cambridgeshire, England, in August 2002.

Danielle van Dam, 7-year-old girl from San Diego, California, who was missing for more than three weeks before her decomposed body was found in a remote spot 25 miles east of the city in 2002.

Also mentioned: the search for Samantha Runnion, the missing girls of Juarez, Mexico, and the search for Carlie Brucie.

AMBER Alerts – The Whole World is Watching

The AMBER Plan is a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies and broadcasters to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child-abduction cases.  Broadcasters use the Emergency Alert System (EAS), formerly called the Emergency Broadcast System, to air a description of the abducted child and her suspected abductor with the goal of instantly galvanizing the entire community to assist in the search for and safe return of the child.  The AMBER Plan was created in 1997 as a legacy to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped and brutally murdered while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas.   The tragedy so shocked and outraged the entire community that residents contacted radio stations in the Dallas area and suggested they broadcast special “alerts” over the airwaves so that they could help prevent such incidents in the future.

The Search is On – The Protocol for Finding Lost Girls

Law enforcement methods.  Technical assistance from The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.  Community participation and assistance: Boy Scouts and civilian posses.  The role of the media.  Sometimes the culprit joins the search.

Hiding in Plain Sight – The Search for Elizabeth Smart

14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was abducted at gunpoint from her bedroom early June 5, 2002, while her parents and four brothers slept.  Police said her younger sister witnessed the kidnapping.  She was held for several weeks in a camp in the mountains about three miles from her home.  Helicopters flew over these canyons searching with infrared equipment but Smart and her kidnappers were dug into the ground with a roof over them, so the their body heat didn’t show up.  At one point searchers came up the canyon, close enough for Elizabeth to hear their voices, but she was chained in the hideout, 150 yards up the gulch, and they couldn’t see her for the trees.

Parents of Missing Girls
The Pain of Not Knowing Where She Is

Looking at 14-year-old murder victim Susie Salmon in Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, who watches from heaven during the weeks following her death as life on Earth goes on without her – her school friends trading rumors about her disappearance, her family holding out hope that she’ll be found, her killer trying to cover his tracks.  As months pass without any leads, Susie sees her parents’ marriage being contorted by loss, her sister hardening herself in an effort to stay strong, and her little brother trying to grasp the meaning of the word gone.

Examining the role of the parents in the Lost Girl narrative: absent mothers, wolfish fathers, step- and foster families.  The father of the murdered girl, Katie Marcus, in Dennis LeHane’s Mystic River, played by Sean Penn in Clint Eastwood’s 2003 film version – his anguish and his wrong-headed act of violent retribution, as well as his wife’s dark justification for it.

Parents pleading on television and offering rewards for information – because if she’s not dead, then maybe someone has her.  And if he still has her, then maybe he will give her back.