When A Victim Has No Voice

By Danny Domingo

I’ve spent the past hour reading blogs about the shortcomings of Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith.  In my minimal experience with only one Santa Clara County Sheriff’s investigation I would have to agree that the criticism is warranted.

 

Sierra LaMar

Sierra LaMar

My name is Danny Domingo and I am a retired police veteran of an east bay Police Department.  I have also volunteered with the KlaasKids Organization since 2000.  Currently I am embedded with the search for Sierra Lamar and have volunteered my time in this worthwhile effort for the past two years.  The Sierra Lamar search is the fourth high profile search in which I have been involved since meeting Marc Klaas in 1999.  The Sierra Lamar search is also the ONLY ONE of the four searches in which I’ve been involved where the local law enforcement jurisdiction has refused to assist the civilian search effort.  Instead, Sheriff Smith and her media representatives have stated multiple times, in one way or another that they wish they could discuss the case with the civilian search leaders but they CAN’T.  Allow me to make this point very clear.  The leaders of the search for Sierra Lamar have never asked Sheriff Smith or her representatives to discuss the case with us.  What we have asked for is assistance in identifying viable search areas.

 

In the first days, weeks and months of the search effort we asked Sheriff Smith and her Search and Rescue leaders to share the areas where they’ve searched so that the civilian team could leap frog those areas thereby searching a larger area in a shorter period of time.  The requests led to empty promises of assistance from the Sheriff.  Finally, in October 2013, nineteen months after Sierra Lamar disappeared; civilian search leaders finally received a map outlining search areas covered by county Search & Rescue teams.  Nineteen months during which body decomposition, animal destruction and weather conditions have taken its toll on any evidence which might have been recovered.

 

Xiana Fairchild

Xiana Fairchild

In my personal estimation, Sheriff Smith has hampered the search effort for Sierra Lamar.  A couple of examples if I may; 1) for several months in the beginning of the search Sheriff Smith refused to disclose that all of the clothing connected with Sierra Lamar had been recovered.  Hence, civilian search teams spent countless hours searching for, logging and documenting an exorbitant amount of female clothing found during searches.  All of this documentation was then turned over to the Sheriff’s Office.  Hundreds of hours could have been saved by a simple statement by the Sheriff’s Office saying, “We are not looking for any outstanding clothing.”  Yet, Sheriff Smith forced her investigators to remain mum about any information at all.  2) The civilian search leaders have asked the Sheriff Investigators to assist the civilian search effort by suggesting areas in which the suspect and his friends might have frequented so that searches could be conducted in those areas.  These requests have been met with no response by the Sheriff or her investigators.  3) There are rumors of the existence of a video surveillance photograph taken of the suspect showing his clothing in a particular state of disarray taken on the date of Sierra’s disappearance and the existence of medical records indicating the suspect was treated for a particular condition days after the disappearance of Sierra Lamar.  A simple confirmation or denial of these two rumors could do a lot to steer this search in a particular direction.  Once again, the requests were met with no response.  Having been an investigator for 16 of the 25 years I served in law enforcement, I fail to see how assistance in any of the above would jeopardize this case.

 

Murder Victim Michelle Le

Murder Victim Michelle Le

I have been researching missing person cases since the disappearance of my own niece, Xiana Fairchild in December 1999.  I have documented numerous cases in which missing persons have been located by civilian search teams.  In that same research I’ve yet to find a single case in which prosecution was compromised by the acts of a civilian search team member.  Conversely, I have a long list of cases in which SAR team members missed a body only to have the body discovered by a civilian or a civilian search team member at a later date.  The most recent example of this is the case of Michelle Le who was discovered by a KlaasKids search team in an area that had been searched by SAR teams up to three previous times.

 

The case against Antolin Garcia has all the appearances of being a very difficult case to win.  It is not a secret that juries find it difficult to convict the defendant in a capital case in which there is no body.  Is there any question in anyone’s mind that the best chances of finding a body now rests with the civilian search team?  Why then does Sheriff Smith and her investigators, to this very day, still refuse to assist the civilian search effort.

 

If Sheriff Smith or her investigators had a loved one missing they would want as many boots on the ground as possible as quickly as possible.  Perhaps the rules are different when the missing is not one of their own.

 

I don’t even live in Santa Clara County but I will be making a donation to the campaign of anybody running against Sheriff Laurie Smith.  It is time for a change in philosophy.

Missing Kids on Facebook

Bryce

We see and hear about these stories all the time. Some hideous pervert, masquerading as Johnny Cool, befriends a young girl on Facebook and entices her to a clandestine meeting at a remote location. By the time she realizes that she has been duped it is too late. We then read the disturbing results online or watch the grisly aftermath on Nancy Grace or any of a number of True Crime television shows. Well, that’s not what this is about. This is about how Facebook has become the milk carton project of the 21st Century.

 

The most enduring symbol of the missing child issue is the flyer. They have been with us ever since 4-year-old Charlie Ross was kidnapped in front of his Germantown, PA home on July 1, 1874. Since then very few things have changed. Flyers are printed on paper, and people post them in storefronts and on telephone poles. As technology advances, so do the places that you will find missing child flyers. First they were in newspapers, then on TV, and now on the Internet. For a short time in the early 1980’s they were even reprinted on milk cartons.

 

Polly was the Internet’s first missing child. But, instead of that representing an evolutionary step forward the Internet simply became another missing child flyer destination. The only difference is that instead of taping them to telephone poles, various organizations stacked missing flyers like cordwood on their website.

 

BM WebsiteIn 2001 I co-founded BeyondMissing.com, to provide law enforcement with a cost effective, efficient means of using the Internet to create and distribute missing flyers to targeted recipient lists. This was the first time that missing flyers were able to be easily created and distributed en-mass by America’s law enforcement community. Although the program had a 95% recovery rate lack of Federal and industry rival support forced us to shut our doors earlier this year. The BeyondMissing parent flyer tool has been accessed and utilized over 3,560 times by families and organizations searching for a missing child, and will be available on KlaasKids.org in the very near future. BeyondMissing was evolutionary in that it represented the first and only option beyond print media utilized to create and mass distribute missing flyers.

 

Facebook has changed all that. Instead of a static, forlorn photograph staring  back at you from a missing poster, Facebook has enabled the families and supporters of missing persons to post multiple photo’s, videos, links to news stories, and testimonials from friends and family in one easy to reach destination. Missing person Facebook pages are not static so they can be updated in real time. Pending fundraising events or press conferences can be advertised, as can case updates. There are missing person communities on Facebook that share missing pages far and wide. They talk about the kids, create forums, share ideas and find commonalities. There is no charge for this dynamic, user friendly application.

 

LinneaMy advice to anybody with a missing child is to use the Facebook advantage. You don’t have to be particularly computer savvy, and in fact you don’t even really need a computer. FedEx Office (formerly Kinko’s) has all of the hardware and software tools, including online access that you need to create a missing person FB page. If you still don’t feel that you have the skill set to accomplish this objective ask friends and family to help you.

 

Of course, there is a downside to all of this. There are no restrictions on who can create these pages. Unfortunately, I know of many cases where either fake or misleading pages have been posted.  People who have no attachment to the case and don’t even know the missing person or their family have also exploited this opportunity for one reason or another. Therefore, you must be careful and try to determine if the page that you have landed on is real, or is it fake!

 

I think that we can all agree that technology has and will continue to change the way we approach child safety and missing kids. However, Facebook above all other technologies or applications has evolved the imagery of missing children in ways that were unimaginable during the 20th Century.

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) & Child Protection

The concept of a Child Locator GPS device first came to my attention in the aftermath of my daughter Polly’s 1993 tragedy. The main obstacle at that time was the same one that exists today: battery life.

 

Currently, there are 32-GPS satellites orbiting the earth. The satellites, operated by the US Department of Defense, orbit with a period of 12 hours (2-orbits/day) at a height of about 11,500 miles traveling at 9,000 mph. Each GPS satellite is constantly transmitting its precise location back to earth. GPS receivers take this locator information from individual GPS satellites and use triangulation to calculate the GPS receiver’s exact location. Triangulation is a way of determining something’s location using the locations of other things, in this case line of sight GPS satellites orbiting the earth. In order to facilitate current location updates any GPS device requires a constant power source.

 

There are plenty of Child Locator GPS devices on the market. One popular way to go is to simply purchase the Family Locator option from you cell phone provider (ATT, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile). For a very reasonable price you are able to track up to 10-GPS equipped cell phones. All cell phones in use are GPS equipped. Typically, child locator services allow you to pinpoint the device at pre-determined intervals (breadcrumbs), create inclusion zones that notify you if the device leaves a specific radius (geo-fencing), allow you to follow progress in a vehicle and notes how fast the vehicle is travelling, and has a panic button children can press if threatened.

 

Another popular option is to purchase a stand-alone Child Locator GPS device. Smaller than cell phones, but not as versatile, these devices can be placed in backpacks, in pockets, etc. Some of these devices have the added feature of providing location service for registered sex offenders in your immediate vicinity.

 

Like cell phone child locator services, stand-alone products require a monthly data plan to access services. In both instances the device battery must be recharged regularly: at least once per day. One can access, set and observe location services via online mapping programs.

1

The problem with this approach is that it is the device that is being tracked, not the child. The KlaasKids Foundation is currently involved in the case of a teenager, who disappeared in March, 2012. Her GPS enabled cell phone was located two days after she disappeared, but Sierra LaMar remains missing to this day.

 

The trick then, is to create a product with sufficient battery life to keep the device constantly running, that stays with the child at all times. Battery technology is not sufficiently advanced to make jewelry a viable option. Even larger items like belt buckles are problematic at this time. However, there is a company that will soon be producing a wristwatch with extended battery life, and titanium infused wristbands designed so that they can only be removed by a unique key fob that remains with the parents.

 

LeoThe LEO Wristwatch, cell phone will provide all of the services outlined above, plus two way communication, a nearly impossible to remove wristband, and a 911 panic button. I have personally tested LEO’s functionality and am convinced that once it reaches the marketplace this device could be the game changer I envisioned while we were still looking for Polly.

 

Before I finish, I would like to address the elephant in the room. Many people are under the misconception that an implantable chip exists that will perform most of the functions previously discussed. Unfortunately, this is not the case. These well-meaning, but misguided folks argue that we have been utilizing this kind of technology to track pets and other wild life for decades now. In truth, a microchip implant is an identifying integrated circuit placed under the skin of a dog, cat or other animal. The chip, about the size of a grain of rice, uses passive RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology.

 

Technology is coming ever closer to the dream of a GPS device that will perform multiple functions, stay with the child and ultimately dissuade perverts from grabbing our kids. Until that day arrives, our best options are Cell Phone Locator Services and Stand Alone GPS Devices.

Sierra LaMar Has No Rights!

Sierra LaMar

Sierra LaMar

Ladies and gentlemen, this press conference has given us a peek into a mother’s anguish. It has also given us an opportunity to witness the loyalty and dedication of the amazing volunteers who turn out week after week after week to search for Sierra Lamar. The reality is that none of this is really necessary because there is an individual sitting in the Santa Clara County Jail who has the answers.

 

But on Saturday morning while these volunteers wake up at the crack of dawn, grab a cup of coffee, put their best face on and then come out here to look for Sierra, that individual sleeps in, and then somebody brings him breakfast. That’s been going on for ten months now. They keep piling charges onto this character, yet he’s never entered a plea.

 

He’s in protective custody. The authorities can’t even talk to him because he’s invoked his right to have a lawyer. There is absolutely nothing going on. He’s playing you, he’s playing me, he’s playing Sierra’s family, and he’s playing the system for everything its worth.

 

These are his rights, but what about Sierra’s rights?

Sierra LaMar: Anatomy of a Search Day 365!

DSC_0092I never expected that we would hit this milestone: Sierra LaMar has been missing for a year! That means that her family has endured four seasons of not knowing where their beautiful daughter/sister is. Their Saturday morning ritual has become routine. Get up very early, put on your best face, grab a mug of coffee, drive to Morgan Hill and hope that when you turn into the Sierra Search Center yours isn’t the only car in the parking lot. To date those specific fears have not been realized, but that doesn’t mean that there’s not plenty left to be fearful of. Marlene LaMar recently told me that, “It has been a long journey, and the most difficult thing is not having the answers which makes waiting feel infinite. The loss and pain has been indescribable.”

 

Last year hundreds of strangers came together to look for a teenaged girl who disappeared while walking to the school bus early on a foggy, wet and windy Friday morning. Last Saturday, a community of about fifty friends gathered for Morning Prayer as they have been doing virtually every week for a year. They stood in a circle, heads bowed and hands held as the Lord’s name was invoked and his guidance was sought. It was a touching sight, profound in its determination and its loyalty.

Press conference 6.13.12

Two-hundred-ninety-eight days ago Antolin Garcia-Torres was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and murdering Sierra. His DNA was discovered on items that Sierra had with her when she disappeared, and her DNA was found inside his car, but he told the authorities that he had never met the young girl. One-hundred-twenty-one days ago Torres-Garcia was further charged with three separate charges of kidnapping women during the commission of a carjacking. He has yet to enter a plea on any of the charges.

Midsi and Marlene LaMar

Midsi and Marlene LaMar

Torres-Garcia holds the truth that so many desperately want to know, and he turns his back on common decency. Since he invoked his right to be represented by a lawyer, the authorities don’t question him. Because he is so despised by the other inmates at the Santa Clara County Jail, he is held in protective custody. There is nothing like staring your own mortality in the face, so I believe that the prospect of the death penalty might finally bring the truth forward. Nothing else has worked.

The Kitchen Ladies: MA, Loretta, Margaret, Vivian, Mary

The Kitchen Ladies: MA, Loretta, Margaret, Vivian, Mary

Tomorrow morning the public and media will join Sierra’s family and the search volunteers at the Search Center which is located at 85 Tilton Ave., Morgan Hill. There will be a press conference at 9:00 a.m., followed by a balloon release. Then searchers will be dispatched to look for signs of Sierra. I expect the mood to be as hopeful as the day is beautiful. The trouble is that with this case storm clouds are never far off the horizon.

Sierra LaMar: Anatomy of a Search Day 256

Two hundred and sixty-seven days ago Sierra LaMar disappeared while walking to the school bus. Her family has spent nearly every Saturday at a search center working with volunteers who are trying to find the missing 15-year-old cheerleader. Steve and Marlene LaMar are among the first to arrive in the morning, and the last to leave in the afternoon. This morning was particularly cold, yet several dozen search volunteers braved temperatures in the low 40’s to look for Sierra.

 

Two hundred and one days ago a suspect was arrested and charged with kidnapping and murdering Sierra. He resides in the relative comfort of a jail cell at the Santa Clara County Jail Complex. The authorities are protecting him so he resides in a solitary cell, segregated from the other prisoners. He eats three meals per day and the police cannot question him without his attorney being present. We the people are paying for the attorney. If he is injured or gets sick guess who pays the healthcare tab? Although he has yet to enter a plea to the charges against him, twenty-six days ago the suspect was charged with trying to kidnap three other victims during three separate car jackings. Charges are piling up like a criminal justice train wreck, but at least his rights aren’t being violated.

 

The American criminal justice system provides no equity to victims. The United States Constitution enumerates numerous rights for criminal defendants, yet the word victim is never mentioned. His right to remain silent supersedes their right to recover Sierra. His right to endless delays overrides their right to closure or piece of mind. I fear that we may never know what happened to Sierra because our society is so invested in protecting monsters from their own sins.

 

Thirty-two states, including California, have passed victim rights amendments to their state constitutions. They include things like the right to attend criminal proceedings, the right to be treated with dignity, and the right to apply for compensation, but in the final analysis they lack the power of the United States Constitution. So victims always take the backseat and even if they win they come in second place. We need a victim’s rights amendment to the US Constitution so that families like Sierra LaMar’s can participate in the system and not be relegated to the status of currency that drives the system.

Sierra LaMar: Anatomy of a Search Day 249

These are the best people in the world. They reaffirm my faith in mankind. Sierra LaMar has been missing for more than 8-months, an arrest has been made and the suspect has been charged with her murder. Yet, a dedicated group of volunteers return week after week to brave the elements and look for Sierra LaMar.

 

This morning we woke up to torrential rains as the pineapple express saturated Northern California. Violet and I drove down to Morgan Hill wondering if anybody would even show up. However, the rain subsided as we drove South on Highway 880. By the time we hit San Jose we were able to turn off the windshield wipers as all of the water was already on the ground. When we arrived at the Sierra Search Center in Morgan Hill, the parking lot was full, teams of familiar faces were heading out to their search assignments, and the kitchen ladies were already transitioning from breakfast to lunch.

 

The changing weather is problematic. Rising reservoirs, creek beds, and saturated ground provide a series of challenges. Expanding reservoirs limit access to certain search sites as they swell ever outward and upward. The swift currents in raging rivers and creeks sweep everything in their path downstream, so searchers must tread softly. Wet, uneven, unpaved ground becomes slippery, endangering all who walk upon it. The possibility of landslides or other forms of shifting earth can change the topography in a heartbeat, as searchers eye hillsides warily.

Yet they remain undeterred. They give of themselves unselfishly; shaking the water off of their rain slickers as their saturated boots squeak across the auditorium floor. “It’s no big deal. This is what we do. If my daughter were missing I would want people to help me find her,” is a refrain often heard around here. The faces are familiar, but in this increasingly fragmented world where everybody seems to vie for attention in the constant struggle to stand apart, they huddle together, grimly determined to defy the ever expanding odds.

 

Most of them have gone home now, but all have vowed to return next week. Sierra LaMar is missing and there is a small group of amazing people who refuse to give up on her. They are my heroes: they are the best people in the world.

Sierra LaMar: Anatomy of a Search Day 235

On behalf of the LaMar family and the Sierra LaMar Search Center, we would like to thank you for your generous donation and continued support. Your commitment to help bring Sierra home is sincerely appreciated by Sierra’s family.

 

The incredible support that has been given by our community and many other surrounding communities to find Sierra has been beyond all our expectations.

 

As the holiday season approaches, we want to express our gratitude to everyone that has given their time and energy no matter how big or small.

 

 

Thank you again for your generous support of our continued efforts to bring Sierra home to her family. We will continue our searches until Sierra has been found and her family can once again have some peace.

Best Wishes, Happy Holidays, and Keep Hope Alive,

 

The Sierra LaMar Search Center

 

For more information on how you can help, please visit FindSierraLaMar.com

Where is Jessica Ridgeway?

Jessica Ridgeway

Just like Sierra LaMar, Jessica Ridgeway disappeared while walking a well-worn route to school. Just like Sierra LaMar, Jessica’s book bag was located two days later. Just like Sierra LaMar, her mother didn’t receive that notification that Jessica hadn’t attended school until late afternoon. In both cases the initial community response was overwhelming. Just like Sierra LaMar, Jessica Ridgeway remains missing.

 

But there are differences too. Sierra is 15-years-old and Jessica Ridgeway is 10. Sierra was walking to the school bus stop while Jessica was walking to meet friends who would then walk with her to school. Sierra carried a Juicy Couture Bag and Jessica had a child’s backpack. Sierra’s school didn’t notify her family that she wasn’t in school until about 6:00 p.m., but Jessica’s school tried and failed to notify her mother as early as 10:00 a.m. Sierra LaMar has been missing for more than six months while Jessica has only been missing for five days.

Leiby Kletzky

These cases aren’t aberrations. Children disappearing en-route to school or at school bus stops is too common. Just last week another 10-year-old girl disappeared after leaving school. Fortunately, she has been found safe. Last year, in Brooklyn, NY 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky was murdered and dismembered after he disappeared walking home alone after school. 7-year-old Orange Park, FL second grader Somer Thompson was kidnapped walking home alone home from school on October 19, 2009. Her remains were found in a landfill several days later. In January, 2007 13-year-old Ben Ownby vanished after getting off of the school bus in rural Missouri. He had been kidnapped by a predator, but was found alive four days later. On November 29, 2005 12-year-old Amber Harris disappeared without a trace after getting off of her school bus in Omaha, NE. Her remains were found many months later. Finally, in the most famous case of all 6-year-old Etan Patz never made it to school near his Manhattan, NY home on May 25, 1979. A suspect has only recently been arrested in that case. I could go on and on and on.

Somer Thompson

Without belaboring the point, on October 4, the day before Jessica vanished, a man driving a white van in nearby Arvada, CO was reported following and interfering with children walking home from school.

Ben Ownby

The incident was reported to the police and the school principal warned the parents of kids under her care via a robo-call. Two weeks previously, also in Arvada, a man in a blue sedan tried to lure children into his car by offering them candy. Neither of these individuals has been identified or questioned regarding Jessica Ridgeway’s case.

Amber Harris

Perverts who live on or near the walking routes or school bus stops know which kids to expect and when to expect them. That creates vulnerability. However, we can minimize school route vulnerability by following a few simple steps. Parents should always show their children the safest routes to and from school. They should always be with at least one other person, an adult if possible. There should be surveillance at school bus stops. This can be addressed in a number of ways. It could be a neighborhood watch program, or something as simple as parents sharing the duty to see their kids leave on the school bus in the morning and return in the afternoon. It could also be a church project. Finally, the unblinking eye of a surveillance camera tells no lies.

Etan Patz

The investigation for the gap-toothed girl in the pink and purple glasses hit stride quickly. The authorities issued an Amber Alert despite the fact that they have no vehicle information. Volunteer ground searches were initiated early on. A multi-jurisdictional task force of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies has conducted roadblocks, neighborhood canvas, and a team of search and rescue divers have already searched a local lake, all to no avail. Her school notified the family that she didn’t arrive at school in a timely manner. Unfortunately, her mother, who works nights and was asleep, missed that call.

 

Sierra LaMar

Will this be enough to bring little Jessica home safely? I certainly hope so, but am unwilling to make a prediction. If her family cooperates with law enforcement and the media, and if the recovered backpack reveals any evidence there is always hope. These are the factors that led to the arrest in Sierra LaMar’s case. Unfortunately, although Sierra has not yet been recovered, the suspect has been charged with kidnapping and murder.