Finding Ways to Remember Joan

By Rosemarie D’Alessandro

D'Alessandro 1Forty-one years ago, I survived one of the most horrific experiences anyone could ever have to go through: the rape and murder of my seven-year-old daughter, Joan, at the hands of a neighbor to whom she was delivering Girl Scout cookies. He lived just three houses away and claimed that he knew how to lure children because he was a teacher. Her case became an historic one, causing changes in Girl Scout rules and making parents more vigilant in how they monitored their children. In a way, society would never be quite so innocent again.

 

Since then, I have worked to find ways to help protect other families from a similar experience, while commemorating my daughter and all she gave to the world during her brief time here. Through social action, setting up a new foundation, and creating a memorial, I have found new meaning and the strength to go on.

 

Joan was a happy, contented child with a twinkle in her eyes and a smile that warmed your heart. She stood up for herself, even at three years old, without reservation. She had a gentleness about her that went along with her spunkiness and social nature. Her outgoing character was balanced with enjoying peaceful times alone. She wasn’t afraid to try out a new experience such as ice skating or diving from the high board, putting herself into it wholeheartedly. A classmate told me how Joan brought her into the group and made her feel accepted.

 

I will always remember her last words she spoke to me as she ran out the door: “I will be right back.”

 

The loss was so great. I went through three months of complete shock; the smallest things could cause me enormous pain. But I knew I had to make a decision about whether to move forward, and I chose to live my life. To me, her death on Holy Thursday and being found on Easter Sunday was in its own way a message of hope.

 

The meaning of this message became all the more clear in 1993 when I found out that her killer was eligible for parole, 20 years after my child’s murder. I knew that I had to fight this. I began a grassroots movement by speaking to the media and starting a petition and ribbon campaign, in her favorite color green, to advocate for the denial of parole for the killer. Eighty thousand signatures helped to keep him in prison.

 

I would have to fight again each time the killer became eligible for parole, raising awareness of the safety of all children and families. During this process I saw a bigger picture, and that something had to be done to change this process. I therefore fought for the adoption of laws guaranteeing that such criminals would remain behind bars for life without the possibility of parole. We found success with Joan’s Law, which mandates that anyone who murders a child during the commission of a sex crime will never get out of prison. However, it is not retroactive and cannot apply to us.

 

But, at least three Joan’s Laws were signed and went into effect in New York, New Jersey, and finally on the federal level. I remember standing in front of the Capitol steps with Marc Klaas and Congressman Bob Frank as we pushed for Joan’s Law and other, stronger child safety regulations. At present, I am working on a new law in New Jersey to expand Joan’s Law to protect children under 18. Hopefully, Joan’s Law can be the goal for other states as well.

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I continue to commemorate Joan in other ways as well. In 1998, Joan’s special inspiration guided me to form the Joan Angela D’Alessandro Memorial Foundation. The Foundation helped bring attention to child protection safety, enrich the lives of at-risk and underprivileged children, and promote victims’ rights.

 

Since its formation, more than 19 fundraisers have been held and the Foundation has donated funds through its Fun, Education, and Safety Program. At-risk children and youth from Paterson and Passaic, NJ, have been able to go to the Washington, DC, Radio City Music Hall in New York, the Amish Country, and the New Jersey shore. The YCS Holly Center in Hackensack, NJ, has been able to take 65 children to Great Adventure for a dream day and children from the Jumoke School in Connecticut have been able to learn about careers with working dogs.

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Then, in 2013, the 40th anniversary of Joan’s passing, I began to work on a project that would ensure that Joan and the safety of all children would never be forgotten. This past June my vision became reality with the creation of the Joan Angela D’Alessandro White Butterfly Sculpture and Garden in the center of the town of Hillsdale, NJ, by the train station. This permanent granite sculpture tells Joan’s story and stands with pride in the midst of a colorful, lush garden with a custom-made bench that has Joan’s signature on it. The White Butterfly that is carved on the front of the sculpture is a symbol of Joan’s spirit bringing hope and joy. It became a sign after I saw a white butterfly at the site where Joan’s body was found in 2006.

 

The sculpture and the surrounding garden will leave a lasting impression on all who view it for many years to come, and help to spread Joan’s story and promote social justice and child protection awareness. Joan’s legacy goes on with all the children she has saved and continues to save. Wouldn’t it be impactful if there were child safety sculptures and gardens in other states too?

 

For more information and to get involved, please visit our website at www.JoansJoy.org or email Rosemarie D’Alessandro at Rosebd@email.com.

Girl Scouts Digital Cookie

girl scoutCongratulations to Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) for unveiling Digital Cookie, a groundbreaking new addition to the Girl Scout Cookie Program that creates a fun, safe, interactive space for girls to sell cookies. Digital Cookie adds a digital layer that expands and strengthens the ways girls learn the essential 5 Skills of goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics. The future of the Girl Scout Cookie Program, Digital Cookie will introduce vital 21st-century lessons about online marketing, app usage, and ecommerce to more than 1 million excited Girl Scouts who will be in the driver’s seat of their own digital cookie businesses.

 

Digital Cookie emphasizes the safety of both girls and their customers. Girls and their caregivers take an Internet safety pledge before using the web-based platform, and caregivers must approve all updates and changes girls make when customizing their Digital Cookie site. Girls using the mobile platform will adhere to the same safety standards as those participating in traditional Girl Scout Cookie sales.

 

As a child safety advocate I have long been aware of the challenges that face Girl Scouts as they gear up for the annual Cookie Drive, a fundamental fundraiser for Girl Scout Councils nationwide. Whether it is a group of girls setting up shop outside a supermarket, interacting with volunteers, or knocking on doors in their own neighborhood, safety challenges can seem daunting, even in the “safest” neighborhoods.

Rosemarie D'Alessandro with a portrait of her daughter Joan

Rosemarie D’Alessandro with a portrait of her daughter Joan

My friend Rosemarie D’Alessandro lost her only daughter, 7-year-old Joan, 41 years ago while delivering Girl Scout Cookies. “A neighbor raped and murdered of my daughter as she was delivering Girl Scout cookies. He lived just three houses away and claimed that he knew how to lure children because he was a teacher.” Rosemary has since worked to find ways to help protect other families from a similar experience, while commemorating her daughter and all she gave to the world during her brief life.

 

Digital Cookie provides girls with an important foundation in technology that will be vital to their experiences in school, business, and life in general in the years ahead. Digital Cookie will also allow customers to help girls learn 21st-century skills grounded in technology, along with valuable interpersonal skills girls will acquire through their continued participation in traditional booth and door to door sales.

 

“For almost a century, the Girl Scout Cookie Program has been teaching girls to be leaders in the world of business and finance, and we intend to ensure that legacy continues in the digital age,” said Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of GSUSA. “Digital Cookie is a game-changer for Girl Scouts, and a quantum leap forward in the evolution of the cookie program, coupling traditional sales activities with an online sales experience that teaches skills like online marketing and ecommerce, all in a digital space that puts an emphasis on learning, fun, and safety. If you buy Girl Scout Cookies online this year, you could be helping to prepare the next female leader of a global tech giant who changes our world forever. Join us in making Girl Scout history this cookie season!”

Polly’s Guide To A Safe Halloween

8 yr old Polly - HalloweenHalloween can be as frightening as it is fun. Scary stories, haunted houses, and jack-o-lanterns rule the day. Children dress up in costumes that stretch the imagination. We laugh, we cringe, and we marvel at their creativity. They knock on the doors of strangers and receive all manner of treats. In the United States Halloween celebrates goons, goblins, ghosts, and all things departed.

 

No wonder moms and dads all over America feel like they are rolling dice with fate as the tykes disappear into the darkness. Hopefully, Polly’s Guide to a Safe Halloween will alleviate some of that anxiety.

 

  • Trick-or-Treat with a group andd take along a parent or a teen-aged brother or sister
  • Check the Megan’s Law website for sex offenders in your neighborhood and avoid homes where sex offenders live
  • Make sure that someone in your group has a cell phone with a charged battery
  • Trick-or-Treat in neighborhoods you know, you trust and that are well lit
  • Stay out of dark alleys, dark stairwells, or remote locations
  • Discuss your Halloween route with your parents and the time you will return
  • Wear clothing that is light in color and not too long. Add something that glows in the dark or is reflective
  • wear make-up instead of a mask that can inhibit vision
  • Take a flashlight and walk on the sidewalk
  • Cross streets at the crosswalk and stay away from cars
  • Stay outside the homes you visit
  • Be sure all treats are wrapped and sealed. Eat them only after a parent checks them first
  • Trust your feelings! Stay away from strange or uncomfortable situations
  • If you do not feel safe Trick-or-Treating, do not Trick-or-Treat
  • Have an FUN and SAFE Halloween!

Media Relations & Missing Children

What would you do if your child was kidnapped? How would you handle media relations? Below you will find time tested strategies, ideas, and concepts that you can adapt to help you through the most difficult of times as well as maximize your media opportunities.

 

Cooperate with the media: They can be intrusive and annoying, but media can broadcast an image and the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of a son / daughter to more people in just 30 seconds than you will accomplish stapling flyers to telephone poles in 100 years. They can ask questions that feel prying and insensitive but ultimately are valuable.

 

Some missing children can not be resolved quickly and can continue for weeks, months, or years. Some cases are never solved. To encourage an ongoing investigation you need the support of a proactive public. If we allow the community to forget the case, the efforts of the authorities will be reduced and the ability to recover your child / a decreases dramatically.

 

The most effective method of obtaining and maintaining support is to ensure that the public is invested in the welfare of your son / daughter. Radio, television and newspapers provide an opportunity to humanize his son, thus making it an emotionally society for research.

 

We have broken the media experience into three categories: Mainstream Media; Social Media; & Press Releases and Press Conferences. Please feel free to use any of the strategies, examples or ideas as they apply to your situation.

Mainstream Media

Social Media

Press Releases & Press Conferences

Why DNA is Important to You

child safety capsuleDid you know that personalized medicine is not only rapidly growing, but taking on new meaning with the advances being made in genetic research?  So how could this impact your interest in Child Safety?

 

The GENiSYSS Child Safety Capsule is a “time capsule” that collects all the crucial information for emergency response plus DNA.  That includes medical history and information, contact information for family and friends, fingerprints, photos, audios, distinguishing characteristics, all the information law enforcement and medical responders need to quickly search and hopefully find your child.

 

The deeper advantage is that this information, including the DNA sample taken as a tiny drop of blood in our DNA wells containing patented material to keep the DNA whole and safe for many years, can be taken forward into the child’s adult life.  Why would this be important?

 

Medical science is able to use DNA from earlier in a person’s life, and hopefully prior to that person’s daily exposure to smog, cigarettes, radiation (even from the sun), chemicals and poisons that actually change our DNA.  It’s these changes that are at the root of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, autism, Touette’s Syndrome and many other diseases and conditions. If “cleaner” early DNA has been stored and is available, DNA can help predict, prevent and treat these diseases before they become problems in a person’s life.

 

Wouldn’t you like to have a device that is useful during your child’s life to keep crucial information stored and at your fingertips in case of emergency?  Wouldn’t it be great if that same device could be important to your child as an adult?

 

To learn more, visit the GENiSYSS Indiegogo Campaign Page.  You’ll be amazed at what you learn, and how easy it is to be prepared for an emergency while your child is young and vulnerable with a device that is important to your child as an adult.

Help KlaasKids Stop Crimes Against Children

Pasta PomodoroSausalito CA: Local Italian restaurant chain Pasta Pomodoro will host a fundraising day for the KlaasKids Foundation commemorating the 21st anniversary of Polly Klaas’ tragedy. “This is a perfect time for our friends and supporters to contemplate Polly’s powerful, multi-generational legacy,” said her father Marc Klaas.  “The more people that support this effort, the greater the impact on our efforts to stop crimes against children.”

 

Pasta Pomodoro will donate 20% of your bill (excluding tax and gratuity) to the KlaasKids Foundation for all diners who present a KlaasKids/Pasta Pomodoro flyer to their server prior to ordering. This offer includes lunch, dinner, and take-out orders throughout the day on October 1, 2014.

 

 

 

WHAT:             Pasta for Polly

WHEN:            October 1, 2014 from 11am-9pm

WHERE:           All 19-Bay Area Pasta Pomodoro Locations

 

David Wallace, President of Pasta Pomodoro said, “We are thrilled to support KlaasKids Foundation.  As a local business, Pasta Pomodoro welcomes the opportunity to give back to the community.”

 

About Pasta Pomodoro: The first Pasta Pomodoro was opened in San Francisco in 1994, and immediately became a neighborhood fixture serving fresh, local and authentic Italian fare.  There are 19 restaurants in the Bay Area community. For more information, please visit www.pastapomodoro.com or www.facebook.com/pastapomodoro and follow us on Twitter @PastaPomodoro.

 

The KlaasKids Foundation is a non-profit 501(c) (3) public benefit corporation determined to stop crimes against children and assists families of missing children. Please visit www.klaaskids.org for more information.

Hannah Graham’s Parents

Hannah 2

If missing University of Virginia coed, 18-year-old Hannah Graham’s parents experience is anything like mine was when Polly went missing, they are dominated by turbo charged states of fear, anxiety and anger.

Hannah 1

Not scary movie fear that subsides after two hours: instead, a tsunami of unrelenting emotion that causes perpetual sweat, takes you to the edge and hurls you into the abyss.

Hannah 3

The anxiety nearly paralyzes you, making it almost impossible to eat, sleep, or focus on anything  beyond recovering your missing child.

Hannah 4

They are angry at their inability to get a grip on the situation, at the police for not finding Hannah, and at their God for allowing her to be touched by evil.

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They are in the midst of a category 5 tornado that they are unable to control, that offers no respite, and from which they are unable to escape!

Where is Hannah Graham?

graham18-year-old University of Virginia coed Hannah Graham has been missing since the early morning of Saturday, September 13. Video surveillance places her with 32-year-old Jesse Matthew in the moments before she disappeared. Last Thursday (9/18/14) Matthew was identified and law enforcement received a warrant to search his car. VA Police Chief Timothy Longo then said that officers developed probable cause during the seizure of Matthew’s vehicle to justify and obtain another search warrant for his apartment. Last Saturday (9/20/14) Jesse Mathew walked into the Charlotsville PD and asked for a lawyer. He was allowed to leave without being questioned, and managed to evade law enforcement’s attempt to follow him. Now, he is missing too.

graham perp

If I were Hannah’s family I would be livid that the last known individual who saw Hannah walked into and then out of the Police Station without being questioned, or successfully followed. The police literally allowed the only suspect in the case slip between their fingers and now he’s missing as well.

Graham parents

Law enforcement will subpoena his electronic activity on the day of and days following Hannah’s disappearance. They will try to match cell phone activity between his and her cell phones. In other words, did the phones ping off of the same towers, were they traveling in the same direction, etc. This information will also provide law enforcement with new potential search locations. They will also attempt to locate him through credit card transactions, known acquaintances, etc.

 

This case will remain prominent in the media for the foreseeable future. The potential of tying it to the Morgan Harrington case, the other missing and unsolved cases, and the intense manhunt and search for Hannah demands public scrutiny. It is, once again, the perfect storm for a missing person case. Let us just hope that Hannah can be found…dead or alive!

Amber Alert Insanity!

Missing MomClarksburg, MD law enforcement is searching for 27-year-old Catherin Hoggle, who has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, in connection with the disappearance of her two young children. Her 2-year-old son Jacob was last seen at his grandparents’ home on Sunday afternoon (9/7/14), shortly before his mother drove him to get a pizza. When Ms. Hoggle returned three hours later without her son or a pizza she told her parents that she had left Jacob with a friend for a stay-over. The next morning (9/8/14) she drove away with her three-year-old daughter Sarah. When she returned she told her common law husband Troy Turner that she had dropped both kids off at daycare. When she was not forthcoming about the children’s whereabouts later that day Mr. Turner decided to report the incident to the police. Before he could do so Catherine Hoggle disappeared inside a fast food restaurant. Neither she nor her children have been seen since.

 

Little Jacob and Sarah are in grave danger and the police need every tool in their arsenal if they are going to recover the children alive, yet an Amber Alert has not been activated. The case does not fit the Amber Alert criteria because a car was not involved in the children’s disappearance.

 

The Amber Alert has always had great potential. However, that potential has been stymied by a fundamental misunderstanding of its intent and purpose. The Amber Alert was not created to be activated under specific conditions. Instead, it was meant as a partnership between law enforcement, media, and the public. It offered the public a viable means of assisting in the recovery of kidnapped children.

 

The Amber Alert as currently utilized in the United States is myopic, inflexible and most certainly costs children their lives. Maryland can remedy similar situations in the future by enacting legislation, issuing an executive order, an administrative rule or whatever means is necessary to include children who have been taken by a biological parent with severe mental illness, regardless of whether a car was involved or not.

The Day the Laughter Died

Polly and her sister Annie Nichol

Polly and her sister Annie Nichol

It’s a common refrain for people in my situation. Your child is kidnapped. Time passes and answers are not forthcoming. You sink into despair as you contemplate why God has forsaken your family, yourself, and most importantly your child. What are you to do if you are thrashing about in total darkness without a flashlight to guide you to the path of hope?

 

Robin Williams was not a friend of mine. However, we lived in the same general community in Northern California. He was known to pop up unexpectedly and without an entourage at local comedy clubs, restaurants, county fairs, and other places that normal people would frequent. At any rate our paths had never crossed until the dark days after Polly’s abduction on October 1, 1993.

 

mrs-doubtfireMr. Williams was but one of many who assisted with the Polly search. I learned that he had reached out to Polly’s half-sister Annie (not my daughter) and the girls who were with Polly on the night that she was kidnapped. He spent time with them. He gave them autographed copies of the Mrs. Doubtfire script, and ultimately reintroduced laughter into the broken hearts of suffering children.

 

When he showed up during a fundraising event in Santa Rosa he brought light into the darkness. When he took over auctioneer duties the trickle of support became a river of sustenance. An autographed Willie Mays baseball bat which had been languishing at around $100 quickly sold for more than $2,000 and the man who purchased it couldn’t have been happier. And so it went throughout the evening as the manic styling of the comic with the sad eyes stole hearts and induced much needed laughter.

 

The last time I saw him was at Piatti Restaurant in Mill Valley. He was seated alone at a table for four, facing away from the panoramic view of Mt. Tamalpais and the Marin Headlands. When Violet and I were seated I nodded to him. He smiled in response. Violet encouraged me to approach Mr. Williams to thank him for the unsolicited $10,000 donation that he had made some years later and his overall kindness, but I declined. I wish I could take that moment back, because I don’t think I ever formally thanked him for his benevolence and caring. Now it is too late, because although my season in Hell is long past, his did not end until last Monday: the day the laughter died.