Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Friday, July 31, 2015

To Never Be 9

And then late last Sunday afternoon, July 26, she disappeared.

The search ensued with hundreds of locals fanning out for miles with law enforcement. My wife helped to post flyers. The Santa Cruz community banded together and held their collective breath. I was on a flight to Boston, not knowing yet what had happened.

Monday morning came and went. I learned the news and commiserated with my wife. I hoped and prayed they'd find her. Hours ticked by. The FBI was called in. Monday evening came earlier for me being in the east and I went to bed.

That's when they found her dead in a recycling bin around 7:55 pm PT. I read the news the next morning, Tuesday. Sadness, helplessness then rage coursed through me. The 8-year-old knew her killer, already in custody, although how well is unclear. He's a 15-year-old boy who lived in her apartment complex, not two miles away from where we live. He had kidnapped her, beat her badly, raped her, killed her and dumped her body in a recycling bin.

Tuesday morning I sat in disbelief and sent my wife a Facebook message:

"Sweetie, they found Maddy. I'm so sad and all I want to do is hold our girls and I'm 3,000 miles away. Love you."

I had to wait a few hours because it was only 5:30 am ET. I cried. I longed for my family, but had to work the rest of the week on the East Coast. I cursed the monster who did this, wishing him an equally horrible and painful death. Kill the sonofabitch. I cried a little more.

Sweetie, they found Maddy...

We may tell ourselves we can't imagine such horror, but we can and do. Even with the incidence of stranger child abduction and murder being lower than it's been in decades, when the world spawns a new monster, we imagine he or she is right around the corner.

But none of that matters, not when a child has been killed. It doesn't matter because all you want to do is wall off and protect. It doesn't matter that he'll be tried as an adult or what his background was or the fact that "no one who knew him saw this coming" or how many times it's analyzed until it vanishes under the weight of future "bad news" cycles. Because unfortunately it will happen again and we don't want it to be our family.

All that matters is that Maddy is lost forever. We emphasize and sympathize and thank our deity of choice that our children are safe and we do whatever it takes to ensure that safety.

Later Tuesday morning I asked my wife, "Should we talk with the girls about this?"

"No," she said. "We have to protect them from what we're feeling. Talking with them about what happened will only scare them because they won't understand."

"Okay. Love you."

"I love you too, Sweetie."

Every child's life that's lost to this darkness should be celebrated, regardless of family history, ethnicity, location or socioeconomic background.

In fact, their lives must be celebrated so we as the adults can overcome some of what we're feeling: our fear and our anger and the sadness of not knowing what it's like for our own young children to never be 9. Or 13. Or 21. Or 49.

God bless you and your family, Maddy. We celebrate you and your brothers and sister before you.

What can we say to our own kids if a child is missing in our community? What can we do to keep them safe when they go out into the world on their own? How can we make our community a safer place for everyone?

Read these important recommendations from Kidpower, a Santa Cruz headquartered global nonprofit that teaches people of all ages everyday safety skills and now serves people worldwide in over 30 countries. 

Kidpower is also offering two free community workshops to learn about "People Safety" skills and how to practice them. 

The first is a Parent-Child Workshop geared toward children ages 5-12 years old with their adults and will be held on August 7th from 3:00-5:30 pm

The second is a Parents and Caregivers Workshop. This is an adult only workshop and will be held on August 7th from 6:00-7:30 pm

These workshops are free thanks to a special grant from Plantronics to support workshops for our Santa Cruz community at this important time. Preregistration is required for both. 

Kidpower was founded here in Santa Cruz over 25 years ago by Irene van der Zande as a nonprofit to teach people of all ages everyday safety skills and now serves people worldwide in over 30 countries. To enroll in either of these workshops or for more information, please visit our website at www.kidpower.org or e-mail Kidpower at safety@kidpower.org.

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