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.
With Polly & Ariel 1989
Last night when it was dark and I was listening to Billie Holiday sing the blues, I read my sister Elizabeth’s Facebook post, “19 years ago today I had to say goodbye to my angel, my soul mate. Polly, I think about you every day and I will love you forever! I know we will see each other again… someday.” Within a very few minutes I was seized in grief. Probably not the best time to listen to Billie Holiday.
I posted my feelings, in the moment, on Facebook, though I try to avoid becoming too personal with people I don’t really know. Then I reached out to my niece Ariel who was also online. I vented, I may have spoken inelegantly, but she listened and comforted me. Then I closed down my computer and continued to listen as the lady sang the blues.
Slowly, I regained my composure and wiped the tears from my cheeks. Eventually, Violet came downstairs and I told her what had happened. She held me in her arms as we sat quietly. Finally, we watched a little TV and went to bed.
This morning I opened Facebook and realized that thousands of people had responded to my post. There were expressions of support and sorrow that took my breath away. Ariel left a message that spoke to my heart as she had never done before. Somehow, my life suddenly felt validated.
I don’t know most of the people on Facebook who reached out to me, but their motivations were pure, good, and provided relief. My sister reminded me of the significance of a very difficult day and the importance of unconditional love, my niece was there to offer comfort during a difficult moment, and my wife held me when I felt isolated.
Life is good.
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.