Home for the Holidays


During our whirlwind tour of Spain I took pains to avoid the news, preferring instead to live in the moment and focus on Spain’s rich heritage. Although Violet occasionally read the news online or watched BBC, the see no evil, hear no evil approach enabled us to take advantage of adventure, planned excursions, tasty food and complex wine.

For instance, we were unaware that our president had broken a core campaign promise by capitulating on tax relief for the wealthy or that our new Speaker of the House and his Senate counterpart were prone to tearful crying jags in contemplation of their own circumstances, not those of the public that they served. My free Holiday advice to Barak, John and Mitch is simple: Man up gentlemen, it’s a long and tough road ahead and America needs real leadership, not schoolyard shenanigans! Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Of course we knew about and toasted the recovery of kidnap victim Jean Marie Berlinghoff over plates of sumptuous paella, but with our minds still dwelling on the Iberian Peninsula and Christmas and New Years looming, we were ill prepared for immediate immersion into missing child cases.

The first one reached us the day after we returned, on December 15. A thirteen year old girl with medical issues did not return home from middle school the day before. It had been two days, her family was frantic and the local Sheriff was unresponsive, saying that it seemed a runaway. This has always proved a good excuse for law enforcement indifference as the sheer numbers of runaway children invites indifference. During a couple of consultations with the girl’s grandmother we decided to do the following things: blanket the already created missing child flyer throughout the community, including areas that a local runaway might frequent; focus upon the neighborhood where her best girlfriend and co-conspirator was thought to live, stakeout the neighborhood to see if anybody was removing the flyers and then follow that person home; and finally, continue to press the case through Facebook and other social media sites.

 The next day was problematic. She was still missing, the Sheriff couldn’t be bothered and the family was concerned about a worsening medical condition and possible gang involvement. This time it was decided that media needed to be notified in hopes of embarrassing the Sheriff into action. By December 17, she had been located and returned home.

Also on Thursday the plight of a two year old boy was brought to my attention via Facebook. His non-custodial father had not returned him to his mother. The father was in jail and most of the activity surrounding efforts to recover the child were being conducted via social networking. I told the family that they should re-format the photo essay into a missing flyer, contact local law enforcement to establish that a report had been made, and contact NCMEC to get a flyer posted on their website. The child was recovered by early Friday morning.

KlaasKids did not play a big part in any of these cases. However, we did consult the families, make pertinent suggestions, help with strategies, offer moral support and make ourselves otherwise available. Being involved in three successful recoveries in a row is kind of like the kidnap equivalent of a hat trick. It isn’t even important how the children were recovered because all were recovered alive and returned home in time for the holidays. Maybe there is a Santa Claus after all.

Amber Alert Absurdity

How many children do we have to lose before California and the rest of the nation admit that the Amber Alert is broken? On November 10, 2010, 44-year old Charles Berlinghoff disappeared with his 15-year old niece Jean Marie Berlinghoff without her parents’ permission. They have not been seen since. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) has steadfastly refused to issue an Amber Alert. They say that the case does not fit the criteria.

A convicted sex offender who hid his past from his family, Uncle Charlie suddenly reappeared after a decade long absence. In 2005, he exploited family ties and slithered his way back into younger brother Jake’s life. A bassist for metal bands in Los Angeles, Charlie would stay with Jacob and his teen-aged daughters during occasional visits to Northern California.

 During his most recent visit Jacob intercepted a text message in which Uncle Charlie called 15-year old Jean Marie “baby”. When confronted Uncle Charlie became defensive. The brothers nearly came to blows before Charlie agreed that he would return to Los Angeles that day. Jake did not know that he would take Jean Marie with him.

 Uncle Charlie left his open, half packed suitcase on the bed and drove off in his gray 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass with California plate 2DNX546. Many hours later, when Uncle Charlie had not returned and Jean Marie could not be located, Jake called Charlie’s cell phone. It had been turned off. The chase was on.

Charlie Berlinghoff is a dangerous predator who was convicted of indecent exposure in Shasta County in 1993. In 1998, he was charged with four counts of misdemeanor child molestation and one felony count of indecent exposure in Tehama County. On November 16, 2010 a $100,000 felony arrest warrant was issued for Uncle Charlie. He is wanted for detainment or concealment of a child from her father.

Despite repeated requests from the Shasta County Sheriff the CHP has refused to issue an Amber Alert. CHP spokesperson Fran Clader said that the disappearance, “Did not meet all the required criteria, which include the belief that the child is in imminent danger of serious injury or death”.

Jean Marie is not out for a ride with her “cool” Uncle Charlie: He is a known sexual predator The popular teenager, who always keeps in close contact with family and friends took nothing with her when she left. “Baby” has been held against her will for more than two weeks now and has seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth. If this doesn’t rise to the level of imminent threat, tha what case does?

Unfortunately, like Uncle Ernie in the rock opera Tommy, evil can manifest itself inside the family unit as easily as outside. Family abductions can be predatory. Adults who are not familiar relatives have sexual motivation associated with murdering children. In 1999, Edward Milka kidnapped and murdered his 11-year old niece Brittany Martinez. Uncle Karl Brewer sits on death row for the 1999 kidnapped and murdered 12-year old Andi Brewer. Jessie Dotson murdered his brother’s entire family in Nashville in 2008.

Among its many other faults the Amber Alert is illogical, arbitrary and broken. Two weeks prior to Jean Berlinghoff’s disappearance, the CHP activated an Amber Alert for a 13-year-old missing girl investigators believed was lured away from her home by an adult she had been communicating with on the internet. On August 20, 2010, a regional Amber Alert was activated in the Bay Area for the Oakland Police Department for a 2 year old female kidnapped by her father.

What I want to know is who decided that local law enforcement was not qualified to activate a local Amber Alert? A local activation would be based upon firsthand knowledge of the case, the family and the community. It would further save critical hours; the one issue that everybody acknowledges is the most important factor in the quick and successful recovery of children who have been kidnapped by sexual predators. After all, we trust local authorities with guns, why not the ability to activate an Amber Alert?