What has changed in the 34 years since I was kidnapped in 1978, and held for a year?
What has changed are the numbers. Approximately 800,000 children go missing or are kidnapped each in the United States. An estimated 52,000 are kidnapped by their parents.
Today is bright and beautiful because an 8-year-old boy named Miguel Antonio Morin is preparing to be reunited with his mother, Auboni Champion-Morin. Miguel, called, "Dirty," by his kidnapper, is one of the rare lucky children to be coming home.
Miguel was kidnapped when he was 4 months-old, back in 2004, according to relatives, by his godmother and babysitter, Krystal Rochelle Tanner. She is currently being held without bail in San Augustine, 200 miles from Fort Worth, Texas. According to various news sources a yearlong investigation ensued. In 2004, Tanner was a suspect. Then in 2005, the case was taken to the Harris County District Attorney's Office. Due to a technicality, a warrant was never issued. In 2006, the case was officially closed.
I can understand what Miguel went through as I share my abduction and survival in my book, Scarred: A Memoir. At times, all that existed for me was the image of my swollen, red palm on the frosted window, the memory of my mother as a guiding light and the Popeye song I sang in my head to give me the faith, fortitude and hope that one day I would have a mighty enough fist to break out and find my way home.
Yet, the reunion for Miguel and his mother Auboni Morin would have to wait 96 months due to a breakdown in the system. It failed them as it did Jaycee Lee Dugard. For almost 18 years a plethora of law enforcement and parole officers checked in on Phillip Garrido, her kidnapper; accepting unverified stories as gospel and homespun hyperboles as sacrosanct doctrine. Once, the fire department responded to a call about a child with an injury sustained in a backyard pool incident but they did not pass the information on. And with Garrido as a sex offender on parole one would think that he would be living under a microscope. But this lack of communication between agencies is, in regards to missing and kidnapped children endemic of a broken system and a travesty of biblical proportions.
In the same manner intelligence and security services adjusted after 9/11 to keep our country safe, it is time that we further streamline communications; creating an up-to-date open and transparent medium between all branches of law enforcement, children's services and public and private non-profit organizations focused on the real time recovery efforts of kidnapped and missing children. Furthermore, we need to rethink many of our public policies, local and statewide initiatives and legislation; considering the varied ways their implementation can impact our children.
Here is just one example of what happens when we do not create special exceptions in our policies in regards to our children. On the morning of Aug. 22, 2011 in Dallas County a bloodied mother frantically approached a Dallas County deputy constable on the street and plead with the deputy that her two children had been kidnapped by their father and were in grave danger. The deputy did not give pursuit because Precinct One has a strict, "no chase," policy. As a result of a bad policy two kidnapped children were drowned and subsequently died. I feel for the officer who has to live with this for the rest of her life but I would have suggested a different course of action. When it pertains to our children everything and anything is up for grabs even violating bad public policy, losing your job and/or facing disciplinary action. When a child's life is at stake I would rather ask for forgiveness later then ask for permission now. And my heart goes out to the mother who lost her children. This occurred as a result of inadequate foresight, inflexibility, lack of sympathetic imagination in regards to public policy and courage.
Miguel Morin will be reunited with his mother tomorrow. The tragedy that he was taken is reprehensible, the travesty of being forgotten is monstrous. A boy became a ghost because a system forgot what mattered most. What would have happened had our revered Amber Alert system activated and sent out an alert? How many besides Miguel have become lost to time because they fell through the cracks.
It took eight years for Miguel to return home because a case was closed and a boy was branded invisible. Because no one was investigating. Because someone somewhere surrendered to the banality born of bureaucracy; stranding a child on the lonely shores of the forlorn and forgotten.
Hopefully, tomorrow Auboni Morin will be able to hold her son as she said earlier this week, "I want to hold him in my arms and let him know who I am," said Champion-Morin, who lives in Houston. "I hope he can feel the same thing I feel for him."
I hear her words and remember when I returned. I walked past the custom's house barrier at the Intercontinental airport feeling awkward and dispossessed of spirit and any sense of security. I felt as if I was walking on the moon. I couldn't breathe and I couldn't move. Then I saw my mom. When we were re-united for the first time we locked arms like two halves of a soul made whole. And while I was still afraid of everything I nonetheless felt safe.
I am a survivor. I survived being kidnapped by my father taken high into the frozen wastes of the Greek Mountains near the Bulgarian border. Yet, what I find worse than the torture, the terror and the tears is that in 34 years the system is still the same. The innocent continue to suffer. Luckily, there are more groups out there like the Klaas Foundation and The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to help but the time has come for a drastic, positive change.
This is about our children. Priceless, irreplaceable, unique and indivisible. This is about them and a city the size of San Francisco that we lose each year in the number of children that vanish, go missing or are kidnapped.
It's time to forget for a moment our daily routines and hourly obsessions. Forget trans-fats, set aside the gossip columns and radio rumor mills. Nothing matters but the innocent. These are our children. And one has just come home. Let us not forget the next one.