California Sex Offenders Have a Friend In Sacramento: His Name is Tom Ammiano

On April 26, the California Assembly Public Safety Committee was positioned to do something quietly wonderful for California’s children. Instead they sent a loud and clear message that they are more concerned with the rights of California’s registered sex offenders than they are about the safety of California’s nearly 10-million  children.
Assembly Bill 755 (AB 755) would have created California’s Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act, or CAL E-STOP, which would require sex offenders to register any internet service provider to the California Department of Justice. The Department would then provide this information upon request to third-parties, to allow them to restrict or remove sex offenders from their services.
Sex offender registration laws are necessary because: sex offenders pose a high risk of re-offending after release from custody; protecting the public from sex offenders is a primary governmental interest; the privacy interests of persons convicted of sex offenses are less important than the government’s interest in public safety; and the release of certain information about sex offenders to public agencies and the general public will assist in protecting the public safety.
Megan’s Law built a community notification component into already mandated sex offender registration laws. It is named after 7-year-old Megan Kanka who was kidnapped from her front yard, raped and brutally murdered by a recidivist sex offending neighbor in 1994.
Community notification assists law enforcement in investigations; establishes legal grounds to hold known offenders; deters sex offenders from committing new offenses; and offers citizens information they can use to protect children from victimization.
In California convicted sex offenders are required to register annually with local law enforcement. As part of the process they are required to reveal certain personal and identifying information. Internet identifiers such as email addresses and IM handles are not required simply because the Internet was not a factor in the mid-90’s when sex offender registration and community notification laws were written. CAL E-STOP would have dragged Megan’s Law into the 21st Century by adding a new form field to the Megan’s Law registration form that will compel them to provide Internet identifiers, so that that information can be used to protect children from victimization and exploitation.
Support for CAL E-STOP was as impressive as it was expansive. California law enforcement associations, victim’s rights groups, and child advocacy organizations among others stood solidly behind the proposed legislation. Facebook, which had never before taken a stand, publicly favored CAL E-STOP because they want to provide a safe environment for their vast community. We even had a letter from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Chief of Staff endorsing the intent of CAL E-STOP, which was modeled after a law in New York that has successfully removed more than 11,000 registered sex offenders from Facebook and MySpace since 2009.
Opposition included: Legal Services for Prisoners with Children; California Coalition for Women Prisoners; California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, and the ACLU.
With their 4 – 3 vote against CAL E-STOP, the California Public Safety Committee has failed to close the door on tens of thousands of registered sex offenders and sexual predators who will use social networking sites to prey on California’s children. We now know that they have blood on their hands. What we don’t know is just how much.

Creating Order out of Chaos!

The two guiding principles that drive missing person cases are chaos and order. Chaos rules the family. Their precepts of normalcy are obliterated, and their faith is oftentimes challenged, as they are thrust into a foreign environment that defies logic and experience. Law enforcement, especially if the jurisdictional agency has limited experience investigating missing child cases, is also subject to chaos. Chaos reigns in the community as rumor and innuendo inevitably insert themselves and anonymous bloggers level outrageous theories or point accusatory fingers at family members. Finally, chaos is multiplied as the second wave of predators inserts themselves into ongoing investigations.
I can speak from experience that there is nothing to prepare a family for the disappearance of a child. Whether they are missing for ten minutes in a department store, or months during a lingering investigation, panic and fear quickly dominate our emotions. But, because of our experience, professionalism and issue knowledge the KlaasKids Foundation can be a stabilizing force after a family invites to search for their missing child.
One hopes that order dominates official efforts to investigate and solve the case. Fortunately, many if not most law enforcement agencies have missing child investigative templates or protocols to guide their efforts. Unfortunately, most law enforcement agencies have little to no experience in missing child investigations, and their best efforts can be chaotic at best. However, as State and Federal resources are drawn into investigations protocols, templates, and experience usually, but not always, increase exponentially.
Media is a wild card. In the rush to be first many media outlets throw caution to the wind and report rumor as fact. Or, they offer speculation and opinion as hard knowledge. When Polly was missing certain television reporters would breathlessly report that her remains had been found every time a dog bone was turned over. However, there are also media outlets that take a much more rational, cautious and deliberate approach to these troubling cases. Again, the approach is dependent upon experience, attitude, and a desire to be first as opposed to do the right thing. Personally, I believe that newspapers demonstrate the most restraint and usually provide the best overall service. That is because viable newspaper stories historically have depth based in knowledge. Conversely, the most damage can unusually be found on the blogosphere. After all, blogging requires zero experience, many bloggers exist under the cloak of anonymity, and they are not burdened by standards or ethics.
Then there is the world of non-profit agencies. We are the gray area between government and the private sector. Most non-profit child locator services exist to help the family. Although many NPO’s in our sub-category are founded with the best of intentions, not many survive long enough to pursue long term goals or intentions. Those unable to survive, and those numbers have increased these past few years, dissolve because of dissent from within, they are unable to achieve sustainable funding, or do not have the leadership and vision necessary to get beyond adrenalin driven emotional response to tragedy.
For more than 17-years the KlaasKids Foundation has worked very hard to bring order to our approach. We attempt to respond to all aspects of the missing child issue with professional standards and reason. We adhere to proven protocols, some of which we have developed and others that we have adopted from other agencies. We represent families as we seek the cooperation of law enforcement, community and media. In other words, we try to bring order and provide hope to families that are frozen in fear as they try not to seek salvation beyond hope.
Our most critical, difficult and sensitive work is always in the immediate aftermath of tragedy. We talk with families, offer counsel and resources and when necessary intervene with search and rescue resources. We must demonstrate to law enforcement that our participation will enhance their efforts, will remove responsibility from their overburdened shoulders, and that we can be trusted with a seat at the table. This kind of trust will never be assumed, but must be earned every time that we show up at the scene of the crime. Unfortunately, resistance has not decreased as our portfolio has increased. Therefore, we must continue to pursue the dual goals of bringing order to chaos, and assisting in the recovery of missing persons.

Assembly Bill 755: Online Safety Legislation in California

In her continuing efforts to protect children from sexual predators online, Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani, in conjunction with the KlaasKids Foundation for Children and former Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly, introduced on Friday Assembly Bill 755 (AB 755), the California’s Electronic Securing and Targeting of Online Predators Act (E-STOP) legislation.

AB 755 will require convicted sex offenders to register their email addresses and online identifiers and service providers with the California Department of Justice. That information is then made available to social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook to assist them in removing sexual predators from their sites.

“I understand that MySpace and Facebook have long had policies banning sex offenders on their websites and they have routinely used state registries in the past to block thousands of convicts from joining.” stated Galgiani, “AB 755 will help with this labor-intensive process for social networking sites. I look forward to working with KlaasKids and Mr. Kelly on this important child protection legislation.”

“As a leader in child safety legislation, the KlaasKids Foundation realizes that few safeguards exist to protect children who use the Internet.” said Marc Klaas in a statement on Friday, “That is why we are proud to serve as a Sponsor of this bill authored by Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani that provides protection to California’s children who use Social Networking websites. By bringing a framework to California that has proven successful in New York, we can contribute to the safety of this dynamic virtual playground that has so greatly impacted society.”

 At the end of 2010, New York State Attorney General Cuomo announced that Facebook and MySpace have removed approximately 11,721 profiles associated with 4,336 dangerous sexual predators registered in New York since the law was implemented in 2008.

First proposed by then-Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly in 2006, the E-STOP framework allows more effective policing and removal of sex offenders from online sites where minors may congregate.

“E-STOP’s implementation in New York and the use of sex offender registries by Facebook, MySpace, and other sites have helped build a safer Internet by removing tens of thousands of convicted sex offenders from social networks. We need to upgrade our protection systems here in California. At Facebook, we led the way in supporting E-STOP and I’m excited to stand with Assemblymember Galgiani as we put the right framework in place to build a safer California for kids and adults alike” said former Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly.

A Modest Proposal

Psychics don’t solve missing person cases, yet they insist upon injecting themselves whenever a missing person report reaches the media. Psychic saturation in a given case is dependent upon how widespread it has been reported, the amount of reward offered, and the location from which the person was reported missing. In other words, a case reported in suburban San Francisco will receive more psychic chatter than a case reported out of Western Texas. At best psychic involvement constitutes a distraction, at worst it diverts resources and delays resolution.

Psychics exploit family member’s fears and a desperate desire to know what happened. Psychics don’t have special insight; in fact their predictions tend to veer widely off the mark. They are either impossible to prove, or they tend to be so generic as to be useless. They may say that the missing person is dead and at the bottom of a body of water, or they may say that they see rolling green hills, a highway off ramp, and hear a babbling brook. Well you can’t check at the bottom of every body of water and the geographic description includes all of Northern California and beyond.

The temporary hope delivered by psychic predictions is dashed by the realization that they are inevitably wrong. Any other profession with a zero success rate would be acknowledged utter and hopeless failure, but psychics deny their reality and move onto the next case. Peer review doesn’t exist, but if it did, the baseline for judging and evaluating performance would be a continuum of total failure.

Psychic involvement could be curtailed if there was a consequence for inaccurate predictions, thereby allowing investigative resources to continue pursuing viable leads. One logical way to achieve this goal is to charge psychics for resources wasted when diverted to their unfounded predictions.

Obviously, families are not in a position to charge for this information because they are desperate for information, regardless of the source. And psychics can be very convincing through a combination of lies and fear. However, law enforcement is another matter all together. If the jurisdictional law enforcement agency secured a written promise from psychics that any resources diverted to their involvement in a case would be charged to them should the investigation prove fruitless, you wouldn’t find a psychic in America willing to sign on the dotted line.

The trickledown effect of this action might conceivably impact so-called psychic credibility. Once it became known that psychics are unwilling to put their money where their predictions are, they would be exposed for the frauds that they are. All of the relevant parties would be better served. Families wouldn’t hang false hope on mindless guesses and law enforcement wouldn’t have to distract attention away from a viable investigation.

If you don’t believe me just ask Shawn Hornbeck’s parents. In 2003, Browne claimed that eleven year old Shawn Hornbeck had been abducted by a very tall man with long black dreadlocks and a blue sedan, and that his body could be found near two large, jagged boulders in a wooded area about 20 miles southwest of Richwoods, MO. Shawn Hornbeck was found alive 4-years later. Sylvia Brown has never apologized for the agony that she put Shawn’s parents through.

Psychic Detectives & Other Nonsense

Psychic detectives are the vanguard of a second wave of predators that also includes tabloid journalists, cheesy defense lawyers and photo-op politicians.  They use tabloid newspapers and talk shows to boast about their accomplishments and predict success.  They materialize whenever children are kidnapped and circle the cases like vultures on a fresh carcass.

They scan the media for the haunting eyes of desperate parents willing to do anything to recover their children and then they show up on your doorstep, literally or figuratively, to make the pitch.  They claim to be on the cutting edge of communications, able to predict future events and reach into heaven and hell with their mind.  They hold your hand, massage your psyche and convince you that the only thing separating you from their extraordinary gift is your money.  However, some simply require airfare and living expenses, what we call a vacation.  They seem to answer the prayer that ends the nightmare, but only if you can afford the ticket.

Frantic parents will do anything and they offer something, which is better than nothing.  Few of us posses the resources to underwrite crisis, let alone psychic detectives so they should be reminded that a substantial reward awaits whoever solves the case and returns the stolen child.

Although that strategy eliminates most psychics, some maintain a foothold by appealing to superstitiously vulnerable family members.  They make provocative predictions.  In California, rolling hills, a road or highway, perhaps a building or a bubbling brook.  In Arizona, sand dunes replace rolling hills and cactus substitutes the bubbling brook: In other words, they describe ninety-five percent of the geography of the western United States.

Psychic detectives do not posses supernatural insight, they do not converse with the missing or the dead, they never bring children home.  However, their rambling predictions may have filled in enough gaps to pad their resumes and claim the reward.

A few months after Polly was recovered a psychic claimed that she solved Polly’s case on the television program Hard Copy.  Not only was she using my daughter’s death to promote herself, but she also dismissed all of the wonderful people: police, media, and volunteers who worked so hard and tirelessly to locate my child. 

In truth, that psychic detectives contribution to the case was counter productive.  As always seems to be the case with psychic predictions, her interference created distraction.  Law enforcement resources are diverted toward useless endeavors as phantom leads disappear into thin air.  One cold and dark November evening many of us were lurking around somebody’s property because the psychic said that it held the key to my daughter’s disappearance.  With the heightened sense of paranoia that already existed in the community that property owner would have been well within his rights to blow us away on the spot for trespassing.  We were very fortunate that night, because although he did angrily confront us, he had absolutely nothing to do with the crime we were investigating. 

In the end, and despite their protests, there is not even one case of a psychic truly assisting or solving a missing child case.  It’s just smoke and mirrors.  Their references do not support their claims and law enforcement cannot acknowledge their existence.  Instead, their wishful thinking collides with your desperate hope and leaves you diminished. 

Unfortunately, the next time a little child is kidnapped and mom and dad reach the end of their emotional string the vague, empty promises of the psychic detective will rebound off the stark walls of the missing child’s bedroom and a photo or toy will be palmed as the negotiations are engaged.  It is inevitable: I predict it.

Fifty in Fifty

Last week I was invited to participate in an interim HLN series that is scheduled for a daily, 10-week run. Nancy Grace: America’s Missing, proposes to feature 50 missing person cases on weekday evenings during primetime in an effort to generate the leads that might return the missing to their families. I thought it was a terrific idea and immediately agreed to participate. For years missing child advocates, the families of the missing and other concerned citizens have been hoping for a television program focused on this singular issue. Imagine my disappointment then when the vast majority of comments linked to a story about the program were scurrilous, petty and mean spirited.

I have been providing television commentary on missing children since October 1, 1993, the day my twelve year old daughter Polly was kidnapped from a slumber party in her bedroom. Although i totally appreciate these opportunities they have been ad hoc and have occurred in numerous formats, from local morning shows, to network newsmagazines, to staged reenactments. There has never been a program that dealt with this issue on a regular ongoing schedule. The episodic drama Without A Trace was popular for a few years. John Walsh has always featured missing kids on America’s Most Wanted and Larry King Live often highlited missing child cases. Unfortunately, Larry retired from television about a month ago. Nancy Grace has been the most passionate high profile missing persons advocate and she has featured hundreds of missing person cases on her program since it began running on HLN in February 2005.

There is no question that Nancy’s advocacy has had positive results. Last December a viewer in San Francisco recognized a missing twelve year old girl that had been featured on Nancy Grace and called the police. The case was solved and the girl returned to her family.

Strong advocacy raises the profile of any issue informs the public, and promotes solutions. Just look at the progress that has been made as it relates to the missing. In 1993, we didn’t have sex offender registration or community notification, now Megan’s Law has been adopted throughout our country. Back in the day, law enforcement didn’t have any protocols to deal with missing person investigations, now there are national, regional, and local protocols, not to mention the Amber Alert. When Polly was kidnapped, America had a turnstile system of justice that regurgitated the same high profile offenders again and again, who systematically committed crimes of ever escalating violence. Now we have truth-in-sentencing and three-strikes-and-you’re-out. Crime is down, violence is reduced and more missing persons are being recovered.

By the time the second episode of Nancy Grace: America’s Missing aired on Jan. 18, it became obvious that the show had struck a chord. Two of the missing children profiled in the first program had been recovered and a real time tip was phoned in as the show profiled Lindsey Baum, who has been missing since June 26, 2009. On the third show we learned that the maltreatment of children with disabilities is 1.5-to-10 times higher than of children without disabilities, and that immediate family members perpetrate the majority of neglect, physical abuse, and emotional abuse.

The Associated Press story, reprinted in the Huffington Post, dealt with the substance of the new venture, but the comments it generated were inspired by anger and jealousy. The vast majority of the commentary completely ignored the issue or the fact that this limited series provides a long sought breakthrough for those invested in the plight of the missing. They paid no attention to the broken hearts, lost souls or desperate families who are pinning their hopes on the prospect of having a previously dead case profiled in primetime. They chose to ignore the fact that for many people this is an important issue and for some it is the most important issue. Instead they seemed to mock tragedy, advocacy, and hope. The people who read and comment on the Huffington Post consider themselves sophisticated, intelligent, socially and politically aware. However, at least in this forum, and there is nothing else upon which to judge them, are mean spirited, small minded, and cynical.

I used to think of my heart as a walnut, because for some years I lost the ability to cry. If that is true, then the anonymous posters on the Huffington Post must have hearts the size and consistency of a pomegranate seed: small and bitter with a hard core.

Where is Hailey Dunn?

Until Jan. 3, a week after she disappeared on December 27, 13-year-old

Colorado City, TX middle school cheerleader Hailey Dunn was classified as a runaway. Police Chief John Bevins declaration has been parroted by local media, most notably local radio station owner Jim Baum, who told the local NBC affiliate, “To tell you the truth, this is the first time, and I’ve been here 30 years, that we’ve had a runaway like this. It’s so uncommon”. Calling a missing child a runaway has always been law enforcement’s fallback position. It allows them to defer responsibility and puts the onus of recovery on the shoulders of the family, because runaways are considered a family issue. This action also reflects an exaggerated and distorted sense of what is happening to America’s children.

 


A child who seemingly disappears off the face of the earth deserves our attention, not our indifference. Like Ashley Pond, Miranda Gaddis, and Lindsey Baum before her Hailey stepped out of her front door and vanished. She was headed, first to her dad’s house across the street from where she lived with her mom, and then to a girlfriends home to spend the night. She never arrived.

In McCleary, Washington ten-year-old Lindsey Baum was walking home from her girlfriend’s house on June 26, 2009 and is still missing.  In 2002, on January 9, Oregon City, Oregon resident, twelve-year-old Ashley Pond disappeared after leaving for school. Her friend and schoolmate thirteen-year-old Miranda Gaddis vanished from the same location two months later, on May 8. Neighbor Ward Weaver was arrested on August 13. Ashley’s body was found buried under a concrete slab in Weaver’s back yard. Miranda was found in a box in his tool shed. Like his father before him, Ward Weaver sits on death row awaiting an execution that will never occur.

 Hailey Dunn’s family, friends, school, teachers and other kids parents are the only thing that given this case traction. They took a stand and said, “Not in our community.” A temporary search center was established at the Colorado City Middle School cafeteria for volunteers wanting to help. They have saturated the community with thousands of flyers. An estimated 750 people, out of a population of about 4,000 turned out for a prayer vigil on the evening of Jan. 2. An anonymous reward that began at $1,000 for Hailey’s safe return has now been raised to $25,000. Members of the community created a Facebook page for Hailey, and many others, including me, have put photos of Hailey in their profile pictures.

The Police Chief said that all of the evidence points to Hailey being a runaway. However, there is no evidence, and his declaration is based solely upon statistics. She didn’t tell any of her friends that she was going to run away. She hadn’t threatened her parents that she was going to run away. Nobody saw her run away. She didn’t take anything with her. She had never before runaway. Thirteen-year-old Hailey Dunn was classified as a runaway due to a total lack of evidence, not the preponderance of evidence.

According to the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Throwaway Children (NISMART-2), considered to be the definitive publication on missing child statistics, “The total number of children who were missing from their caretakers in 1999, including children who were reported missing is estimated to be 797,500”. Of these 357,600 (45%) were runaway/throwaway situations. Therefore, if you conclude that a missing child has runaway you will be right about half the time. But, that does not mean that you turn your back on those children. Given what we know about violence in America and the challenges that our kids face, it is our duty as responsible adults to recover and help kids who have run away or thrown out of their homes.

 The National Runaway Switchboard estimates that between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth runaway in a year. Half of all runaways are girls. Within 48 hours of hitting the streets, one third of these children are lured or recruited into the underground world of prostitution or pornography. The average age at which girls first become victims of prostitution is 12-14. For boys, the entry age is 11-13. Approximately 55% of street girls engage in formal prostitution. Of the girls engaged in formal prostitution, 75% work for a pimp. Per international definition children under the age of 18 who are exploited for sex are not criminals, they are victims and all victims deserve our attention and our assistance.

So, where is Hailey Dunn? We do not know, but we do care. We will seek her until she is returned to her family. Numerous law enforcement agencies including the Mitchell County Sheriff’s Department, the Mitchell County District Attorney, the Texas Rangers, and the Texas Department of Public Safety are involved in the search. We are Americans and Americans, whether we are Police Chiefs or common citizens, do not turn their backs on children in need.

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.

The House of Horrors!

The plan, although hastily conceived, was ready and it seemed like a good one. The shades were drawn making the house dark, because darkness was the preferred atmosphere. Latex gloves and a disposable plastic poncho were worn because it was a messy job. Goggles were secured to protect against flying bits. Two heavy duty trash bags were folded in the corner, on the other side of the toilet. The lid was down on the toilet to help contain the splatter. The gas chamber was topped off and the chainsaw was brought in from the tool shed. Once the job site was secured the bathroom door was closed, and although the house was otherwise empty, the hook lock was secured. After several attempts the saw roared to life. It was time to get busy.
She had been rented to the two men in exchange for a moderate amount of money. After all, times are tough, children aren’t cheap, and money is hard to come by. The men drank cheap whiskey and repeatedly raped the ten-year-old. When they were finally finished one of them, the leader, smacked her repeatedly on the head to stop the incessant sniveling. She stopped crying as she stopped moving. He wiped the sweat off of his brow with the tank top that he had been wearing for the past week and headed toward the living room. The other man, his brother, took the urine and bloodstained mattress outside and leaned it against the side of the house. A phone call was made and she was eventually removed from the premises.
The dark child was now the dead child. Ten-year-old Zahra Baker’s body was dismembered and her remains concealed in a bed comforter and car cover, then discarded in a dumpster behind a grocery store. Her prosthetic leg was wrapped in a white trash bag and thrown in a dumpster at the Fox Ridge Apartments, and the prosthetic liner was discarded off the side of Christie Road, a few miles from where Elisa used to live. Zahra’s father Adam and step-mother Elisa dumped her mattress and box spring at a trash dump in Granite Falls. The little girl who had trouble walking fifteen yards had been scattered over a fifteen mile radius from her home in Hickory, NC.
She could have been saved, but not even the authorities seemed to care until it was too late. Elisa Baker did not disguise the fact that she loathed the ten-year-old one legged, deaf cancer survivor. Elisa Baker was no stranger to the North Carolina Department of Social Services. Numerous reports were made to the Department of Social Services and numerous investigations were conducted regarding the abuse of Elisa’s biological children from as far back as 1999. In July 2010 a report was made to the Caldwell County Department of Social Services that Alisa Baker had physically abused Zahra Baker, resulting in a black eye. Friends and neighbors saw the abuse as instance after instance has been documented on various television and newspaper accounts. Zahra was able to survive two bouts of cancer, but not the malignancy of her home life.
There are some crimes that are so cruel, so evil that words cannot describe them. Zahra Baker’s tragedy rises to that threshold. The house of horrors that Zahra Baker lived in was not a home, but was instead a torture chamber. That her sweet smile even existed seems a miracle when one considers the amount of abuse that she suffered at the hands of cruel caregivers.

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?