In My Backyard?

03/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

In My Backyard? Missing People Deserve the Power of Awareness

The six months I spent working on the search for Caylee Anthony were heart wrenching. It was the most emotional and difficult thing I have done in my life. Watching a family go through the torment of broken leads, the hatred of others, and the confusion surrounding the disappearance of their only granddaughter was really difficult. Add to this the stress over the possibility of their losing their only daughter, it was a roller coaster of emotions not only for the family but for all of us that were involved. I believed in hope until the very end, I believed in tips and witnesses, and I believed in justice for Caylee until the end. I still fight for the truth, even now after we said our goodbyes in a beautiful celebration to her life during her public memorial in February. Caylee Marie made an everlasting impact on my heart and soul. Caylee's case opened my eyes to an even greater epidemic in our society; how the United States of America should be a place our kids and our families could walk free from harm, and yet every minute of the day hatred prevails and we lose the most precious part of what God created, our loved ones.

I am heading up a national coalition to bring more awareness to those children and adults missing across the country and, for that matter, around the world. Those missing people never deserved to be abducted or kidnapped, yet while you read this someone else will be taken from the security of their life, the security of their families, and the security of living in a free country. Someone will be taken by a stranger, or worse yet, in the hands of a family member. Everyday hatred prevails and my heart aches more, my eyes fill with tears, I grow angry and yet I am safe, my family is safe, and I am one of the lucky ones escaping the madness.

This past week a 13-year old beautiful young lady named Alycia Nipp was kidnapped and killed by a homeless sex offender, a man that in my opinion should have never been able to walk the streets. This devastating case happened in my backyard of Clark County, Washington and is just one of many with similar facts and similar outcomes. In Escondido, California Amber Dubois another teen with a bright future has gone missing, and a family struggles to understand how their daughter disappeared only a quarter of a mile from her school. No clues and no answers, but a family and community cling to the hope that she will return safely.

A week after a public memorial for Caylee Marie Anthony and only seventy miles from where Caylee's remains were found, Haleigh Cummings a beautiful curly blond haired 5-year old disappeared from her own home late at night. No clues, no motives, no answers and two families are living in tents until the news of Haleigh's homecoming is announced. Another family with hope, many prayers, and a community that comes to a standstill waiting until to bringing their angel comes home.

On the national news, a few days ago, there was a story about a Human Trafficking ring. The oldest profession of society, and yet the industry that most would call prostitution, is now being seen as "human & sex trafficking" and many of those in the "business" are victims of kidnapping, who were sold into this profession. Missing and abducted people who were never found may be that woman or even man of the night in our downtown areas, and yet we say not my problem and not in my backyard.

In January three twenty year-olds were rescued from a trafficking ring that were victims of kidnapping as children years prior. Are they safe now? Are they really reunited with their family? Physically maybe, but the long term emotional effect will never be the same.

As I continue to read the headlines and explore these cases, my thoughts go to the Natalie Holloway and Jennifer Kesse cases; could they be one of those in my backyard? Possibly. Could they have been trafficked overseas? Possibly. Do they deserve to be found? Most definitely. Two families left without closure, left without answers, and years of tears and emotions no family would ever want to endure. Years of tears and emotions, try twenty or thirty years of never knowing or even longer.

Twenty years of a roller coaster ride is what the Sessions' family has gone through, Tiffany Sessions went out for a daily jog in Gainesville, Florida and never came home. A favorite pastime and a major initiative with our political leaders, stay active and include daily exercise in your life, I don't think this is what any of them had in mind. A jog, music playing on her walk-man, and unwinding from her studies at the University of Florida and never to be heard from again. This is not acceptable in my mind and should not be in yours. Let your voices be heard and don't let cases too old to remember fade away like a canvas exposed to sunlight. Together we can achieve more, and all of us must work, including the families, authorities, and wonderful organizations, to get the word out and not let any missing person fade from view.

Whether a child or an adult goes missing by the hands of a stranger or familiar face, we must all take a stand and try to make a greater impact on bringing them home. The heroes in all of this are the families that never let their loved one's story fade away, family members like Ed Smart (Elizabeth's father), John Walsh (Adam's father), or Cassondra Cales (Stacy Peterson's sister), the media supporters that continue to keep these stories visible to their audiences, the organizations and authorities that continue to work on the cases, and those across the country touched by these stories.

It's that time again for action from strangers. With a new era in the White House, and change on the horizon, I challenge those reading my rants and raves to put your emotions to work -- on your social sites, websites, and other avenues keep these faces of those missing visible to your audience. Those missing today or years ago may just be your neighbor, may be a colleague, may be in your classroom, or may pass you on the street. Elizabeth Smart is one of many faces of hope, millions believed she was never going to be found and believed she was no longer with us, but nine months later was found by a couple who recognized her by the constant visibility her family ensured for her, each and every day. Today she is a voice of hope for others. With over a million people missing in our country alone, your voice counts for every one of them...

Every minute of the day, hatred prevails. We can allow it to break us or make us stronger. It makes me stronger every day and I hope it will do the same for you. When faced with hate crimes in our neighborhoods, we start a neighborhood watch. Well all of us throughout the world are faced with hatred and direct hate crimes, including abduction of loved ones, and its time for a national neighborhood watch and I have signed up, what about you?

Michelle A. Bart, National Chairperson of National Vigil For Hope 2009, the Human Trafficking Awareness Day Public Awareness Chair-Vancouver, WA 2009, owner of Helping Heroes, Inc.