In 1993, 868,345 persons were reported missing in the United States of America. I wish to write about, remember, and honor one of them.
1993 sometimes seems so near that I can reach out and grab it, and sometimes so distant that the details are blurred memories, but since very few people who were touched by her plight ever met Polly, I will do my best to tell you about her. She was a very pretty, smart, cheerful and engaging girl who was just beginning to realize life’s potential. She was a skilled actor who could nail the first read through of a script. She could ride a bike, had mastered swimming and wanted me to teach her how to play baseball, so that she could ‘play with the boys.’ On Sunday evenings I enjoyed sitting on the couch with Polly on one side and Violet on the other. Polly and I would cackle at Homer and Bart Simpson’s mindless antics while Violet looked at us quizzically and asked what was so funny? Even in life we thought of Polly as an old soul because of the depth of her compassion and capacity for love. She was the kind of a girl who would make her presence known when she entered the room. When she left it would be with an unspoken, “Hey, remember me!”
Polly lived with her mom in Petaluma, but we had joint custody. She would spend 2-days a week with Violet and me, take vacations and spend most Holiday’s with us. We talked on the phone almost every night. The last time we spoke was on October 1. She was very enthusiastic about the slumber party she was hosting for her girlfriends. Before we hung up I told her that I loved her. “I love you too Daddy,” she replied.
If Polly were kidnapped in 2013 instead of 1993, things would have played out very differently. In 1993, when the authorities issued an APB with the stipulation that Polly’s kidnapping was “Not for press release,” that led to a series of systematic failures that might have cost Polly her life. Two Sheriff’s deputies that confronted the killer about an hour after she was kidnapped had no idea who they were dealing with and sent him on his way instead of arresting him on the spot. Today we have inter-agency cooperation, written protocols, computer system interoperability, and a much greater awareness of the issue. The two deputies who helped a killer pull his car out of a ditch would have been informed and might have been able to solve the case much more quickly. Also, there is no doubt in my mind that today the killer would be a third striker which means that he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to kidnap, rape and kill because he would already be incarcerated. We simply don’t revolve recidivist offenders through the turnstile as quickly as we did in 1993. Finally, today we have the Amber Alert which was originally designed for this type of scenario. Unfortunately, as it became institutionalized its effectiveness was substantially diminished.
Ironically, I don’t know how many of those changes would have occurred if it had not been for Polly. She had become the face of American victimization as quickly as her killer had become the face of crime in America. She was the symbol, first of hope and then of loss. She was the impetus, but certainly not the inspiration, for California’s hugely successful 3-strikes law. The FBI wrote the first predatory abduction protocol based on her crime, she was the Internet’s first missing child, and all future community responses and volunteer search efforts have been measured against Petaluma’s heroic effort.
I think that the work the KlaasKids Foundation has done on Polly’s behalf has had an influence on our cause. One of the reasons that Polly’s situation received so much attention is because my family and I were unrelenting in our desire to bring her home alive. Prior to Polly’s kidnapping there had been a rash of predatory abductions in the Bay Area. They would all begin with a roar and end shortly thereafter in a whimper. We embraced the media as partners, not adversaries and did everything that we could to keep her story alive, because we knew that if the media went home people would stop caring. If the people stopped caring there would come a time when law enforcement would stop investigating. I feared that we would join the ranks of those caught in the limbo of “not knowing”.
Also, throughout the past 20-years KlaasKids has been there for the families of the missing. We are invested in preventing future abductions, but are also ready to respond if a child is missing. To date, KlaasKids SAR has helped 866-families of missing children throughout the United States, including numerous high profile abduction cases. We’ve conducted 273 searches for missing persons around the country; trained over 1100 professional search and rescue volunteers; and assisted in the recovery of 39 women and children involved in sex trafficking throughout the United States.
With BeyondMissing our flyer creation and distribution technology was utilized by registered law enforcement in 35 states in the search for 340 abducted/missing children. BeyondMissing tools had a 95% recovery rate and to date registered users have recovered 323 children. BeyondMissing was utilized by law enforcement to issue 174 Amber Alerts, 56 Local Amber Alerts, 16 Abduction Alerts and 94 Missing Child Alerts. Collectively, BeyondMissing has distribution 1,231,500 emails, 34,400 text messages and initiated distribution to 1,721,800 faxes to “targeted” recipients on behalf of law enforcement. The BeyondMissing Parent Flyer Tool has been accessed and utilized over 3,560 times by families and organizations searching for a missing child.
Our community outreach program, the Print-A-Thon, has enabled us to travel to more than 40-states where we have interacted with young families, fingerprinted/photographed and provided comprehensive suites of child safety materials to more than 1,000,000 children without ever charging a family for the service or database personal or private information.
We were front line soldiers in the effort to provide interoperability between government computer systems, truth-in-sentencing, Megan’s Law, the Adam Walsh Act and prevention funding for at risk youth so that they would have options in life beyond drugs and crime. We did not help to get 3-strikes passed, but have defended it passionately in the years since. During the last election cycle we took a leadership role in Prop.35, which targets human traffickers, provides much needed services for victims of human trafficking and passed by a greater margin than any other ballot initiative in California history.
Our website, KlaasKids.org is nearing the completion of a major overhaul that will make our suite of online services even more powerful, vibrant and excellent than they already are. Our popular comparative analysis of each state’s Megan’s Law has been updated and redesigned with the latest data.
We believe that the future of child safety exists in technology. There are documented cases of FB & Twitter having been instrumental in the recovery of missing kids. There is thousands of missing child pages on FB & numerous communities dedicated to recovering the missing. Each of those pages provides multiple pictures, video, links to articles, & testimonials thereby making organizations like NCMEC virtually obsolete as far as the public is concerned.
Smart phone alert apps like PGA can bypass government bureaucracy and distribute missing child information in minutes instead of hours. Free child friendly web browsers like Cocoon for KlaasKids protects children from rogue marketers and other dangers that exist online. We anticipate that GPS technology is on the cusp of great changes that will be protective of kids. Database technology and computer system interoperability are fully realized concepts. Technology’s dream is fast catching up to technology’s reality and KlaasKids will continue to explore how it can prevent, respond to and recover child abduction.
Unlike other, much better funded child locater NPO’s the KlaasKids Foundation staff and volunteers do more than sit behind our desks answering phones and posting flyers on our website. We innovate, we advocate, we search, we educate, and we take a stand where others remain silent.
Late at night on October 1, 1993, when Polly was being forced into the night at knifepoint, under the threat of death she said, “Please don’t hurt my mother and sister.” At that moment in time she was the bravest little girl in the world. She remains our beacon, our inspiration and the reason that we will continue to focus on the fight for America’s children until we draw our last breath.