Little Girl Lost

Lisa Irwin

It’s a high stakes, middle of the night gambit that has little chance for success. You can silently and carefully observe the house and its residents all you want. You can become familiar with patterns, but a house full of kids can never be totally predictable. Flashlights are to be avoided as much as possible so your eyes can become accustomed to the dark, lest you step on toys and sleeping pets. Forget about windows and fences, even a gymnast would have trouble conquering those obstacles with a child in tow. And even the fingers of a skilled locksmith cannot control the volume of the tumblers as they succumb to his practiced touch, nor the distinctive click of the door as the perp and his prey disappear into the darkness.


It’s a scenario that has supposedly played out far too often lately. 11-month-old Lisa Irwin wasn’t in her crib on the morning of October 4, 2011 so her mother called the Kansas City, Missouri 911 emergency line. A few months later, on December 17 in Waterville, Maine 2-year-old baby Ayla Reynolds father called 911 to report that she had been kidnapped from her bedroom the night before. 6-year-old Isabel Celis father reported his daughter missing from her Tucson, Arizona home at 8:00 a.m. on April 21, 2012. Finally, 6-year-old Sierra Newbold’s mother made an emergency call at about 7:30 a.m., on June 26, to report that her daughter was missing from her bedroom.

Ayla Reynolds

Unfortunately, I’m all too familiar with the pattern. In 1993 my Polly was snatched from her bedroom. Because there were witnesses and because of a dogged investigation Polly’s killer now sits on California’s death row. Almost a decade later, on June 5, 2002 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City, UT bedroom. Miraculously, 9-months later Elizabeth was recovered alive not 20-miles from her home. Her kidnappers are now serving life sentences behind bars.


In both of these cases family members who were initially under intense scrutiny were quickly removed from the list of possible suspects because we truly cooperated with the authorities. Polygraph exams were administered, multiple interrogations were conducted and witnesses were questioned.

Isabel Celis

With the exception of Sierra Newbold, whose broken and abused body was found discarded in a ditch near her home shortly after her mother called 911; the other children have not been located.  Some believe that the girls have been sold into sexual slavery. However, when 1.6-2.8 million runaway children live on the mean streets of America on a given day, and are easily found in medium to large cities throughout the United States, why would traffickers risk everything to steal an infant in the dead of night?


Others speculate that the children are victims of revenge, or that their disappearances are payback for drug debts. While revenge kidnappings do occur, they are much more common as plot devices in action novels than in real life. As drug cartels ramp up levels of violence, including kidnappings for drug debt, there has not been a ransom demand in any of the cases cited above.

Sierra Newbold

Closer to home rumors circulate that “bad” uncles are responsible for the girl’s disappearance. Unfortunately, predators do not exist in a vacuum. They have relatives and families. Predatory relatives can go undetected for decades or even avoid detection altogether. I know of many families that have been victimized by one of their own. However, these men tend to commit crimes of convenience. They wait until they are alone with the victim, when they think that they can avoid detection, and then they strike; oftentimes with lethal violence. They don’t sneak into the house in the middle of the night – because they don’t have to.


Typically, the parents of kidnapped children would move heaven and earth to recover their kids. That is what the Klaas and Smart families did. We worked with law enforcement; we pestered the media and embraced our local communities. But, more than anything else, we never gave up hope. Instead, we did something every day that would move the case forward. Some might say that we were annoying.

Polly Hannah Klaas

However, baby Lisa’s parents lack of cooperation with the Police is almost as well documented than the disappearance of their daughter. According to the Police the three adults that were in the house the night that baby Ayla vanished have not been forthcoming with details of her disappearance. In Tucson, Child Protection Services ordered Isabel Celis father to move out of the house that he shared with his family and cease all contact with his other children. It is still too early in the game to judge Sierra Newbold’s case. Hopefully, it will not linger without resolution as have the others.


I have no idea if these parents are involved in their children’s disappearance. What I do know is that one of the most challenging and difficult scenario imaginable is being replicated far too often throughout the country. That these cases remain open must also strike fear in the hearts of neighbors and friends. If such brazen criminals are freely roaming our neighborhoods and the authorities are unable to solve the cases, then all children remain at risk.

Elizabeth Smart

If you are concerned that your children may not be safe in your home I offer the following suggestions. Lock your doors and windows at night. Purchase surveillance equipment from a home security specialist. Get a big, loud dog that is easily disturbed during the night. Know where your young children are at all times and don’t leave them by themselves. Work with your neighbors to create an effective neighborhood watch program so that you can work together to protect each other’s children and property. Know your neighborhood. Show your children the safe places to play and areas to avoid like dark stairwells and alleys. The more you know about your neighborhood the safer your family will be.

No Tears for Isabel

Six-year-old Isabel Celis was last seen at approximately 11:00 p.m., on Friday, April 20, 2012. She was discovered missing around 8:00 a.m., on Saturday, April 21. Isabel’s parents called 911 as soon as they determined that she was not in the family home. The case has since captured the attention of the nation; however Isabel’s family has made only one public appearance to speak out on behalf of their missing daughter.

I’m a firm believer that families are the best advocates for their missing children. If there is a perception that Isabel’s family is not doing everything that they can to help their young daughter it creates concern within the community. They have to wonder, “If the family is not doing everything that they can, then why should I do everything that I can to recover this child?”

At one point after my daughter was kidnapped a news reporter told me that she could get Polly more attention with fifteen seconds on the evening news than I could generate nailing flyers onto telephone poles for a hundred years. I took that to heart and have rarely turned down an interview since. My advice to Isabel’s parents is to get out there and start fighting for your child.

Get over your fears, realize that you always told her that you would be there when she needed you, and that she’s never needed you more than she needs you right now. Therefore, get out there and give the interviews: create a portrait of Isabel. Tell us what kind of a girl she is. Let us know what she likes and what she doesn’t like. Start sharing more photographs and share video of her. Build her up in the public’s mind so that they become invested in who this little girl is and demand that law enforcement do whatever they need to do to bring her home. Involve yourself in the community of hope that has sprung up around you, is supporting you and is fighting for Isabel’s return. Hug some folks and thank some folks. She deserves nothing less.
One of the most difficult kinds of crimes to solve is the stereotypical stranger abduction, because that scenario is about some goon crawling out from under a rock, stealing your child and then disappearing back under that rock. It’s a big world and these are very small children. Law enforcement is obviously going to investigate that scenario, but the numbers always bring you back to the family. The vast majority of kidnappings in America are non-custodial parental kidnappings. The most vulnerable population of children to that scenario are pre-teen girls. Everything about this case will continue to turn right back onto the family until they eliminate themselves as suspects. The best way to do that is to submit to any questioning, to submit to any polygraphs and to get out there on the airwaves and advocate on behalf of Isabel.
Look at what happens when you don’t do that. Take the case of baby Lisa Irwin, who disappeared from her bed in Kansas City, MO on October 3, 2011. Lisa’s parents did not advocate on her behalf, they did not cooperate with the police. That case has effectively gone cold. It went cold because people thought, “Gee, if the parents aren’t going to be out there fighting for her, why should I be out there fighting for her?

Baby Lisa’s case is going cold. By not cooperating with the authorities and stonewalling the media baby Lisa’s parents have made themselves look guilty. It has allowed law enforcement to pull back their investigation. Instead of hundreds of multijurisdictional officers and agents focused on baby Lisa, now there are several.

We kept our case alive for two months because we never stopped speaking up for and representing Polly. We have a case here in Northern California for a missing teenager named Sierra LaMar that has been active for six weeks now, and there is still an enormous amount of interest in her case. However, in Isabel’s case law enforcement admitted on April 27, that the investigation has already been reduced from 200 to about 50 officers. On April 29, Tucson Police Lt. Fabian Pacheco acknowledged that the case could turn “cold.”

I think that we are looking at very limited options here. If something doesn’t pop soon. If the parents don’t change the way they are handling Isabel’s disappearance, then the case may very well go cold. The unfortunate thing about that is that people are concerned that there may be a monster loose on the streets of Tucson: first because of Isabel’s case; and then because of the more recent case of a man breaking into the home of three young sisters in the wee hours of the morning only miles away from Isabel’s home. If this goes cold and we don’t know who that monster is, then we have a situation where the people of Tucson, AZ are living in a community where the safety of children isn’t even secure in the sanctity of their own homes, and law enforcement does not have the will to resolve this public safety crisis. That creates an atmosphere of fear and the last thing we need in America is more home grown fear.