Michaela was my first child, the desire of my heart for over five years before she was born, finally conceived only with the assistance of a prescription for fertility pills. She was the first person to curl her little tiny hand around my fingers, and around my heart, the first one ever to call me "mommy." Beautiful beyond measure, tender hearted and compassionate, she was a living light in this world. Then she was gone.
It was a sunny Saturday morning, the first day of Thanksgiving vacation, when Michaela and her best friend, Trina, asked if they could go to the neighborhood market to get some candy and sodas. The market was only two blocks away, but Michaela had only been there a few times, and then only in the company of the teenage girls who lived next door. I didn't want to let her go, and at first I told her no. But she begged and begged, and so I gave in, and let her go. I stood at the door and watched as the girls picked up their scooters from the driveway to leave. Michaela turned to me. "I love you, mom," she said. "I love you, too, Michaela," I told her. Those were our last words to each other. I stood and watched as the girls glided down the driveway and to the end of the block, until they turned out of sight. I went back inside and started washing the breakfast dishes.
Michaela hadn't been gone for long, not long enough for me to worry about her, when I heard shouting out in the street, where Michaela's dad was working on the car in the driveway. A minute later he stuck his head in the kitchen doorway. "Somebody snatched Michaela up at the market," he said breathlessly. "You call 911. I'm going up there." I stood there with my mouth open, unable to comprehend the horror of what I was hearing. Somebody "snatched" Michaela up at the market? What did that even mean? I picked up the phone and dialed 911. They knew my name without my telling them. They asked some questions, and told me to wait at my house for the officer.
"Have they found her yet?" I asked.
"No, not yet," the dispatcher answered. "Just wait for the officer. He will explain everything to you."
I hung up the phone and began waiting, began a lifetime of waiting. I began pacing, tracing figure eights around my small house, figure eights I would continue to trace for years to come, needing to go somewhere but not knowing where, or how to get there.
Michaela and Trina had left their scooters by the side door of the market while they went in and purchased some candy and sodas and beef jerky. When they left the market, they started to walk home, completely forgetting that they had ridden the scooters there. Halfway across the parking lot they remembered, and turned back to get them.
One of the scooters was not by the door where they'd left it. Michaela spotted it first, about three parking spaces down from the door, next to a car. She went to get it. As she bent over to pick it up, a man jumped out of the car next to the scooter, grabbed her from behind, and threw her screaming into his car as Trina watched in horror. He climbed in and started the car, drove out of the parking lot and took off driving erratically down the busy highway which is Mission Boulevard in Hayward. Trina ran into the store for help. The police were called. Trina then called her dad, who drove by my house on his way to the store and told Michaela's dad what had happened. The police response was immediate, arriving before Trina's dad and Michaela's dad.
It seemed impossible for this case not to be solved, and solved quickly. If we'd had Amber Alerts and some of the technology that exists today, perhaps this story would have turned out differently. But we didn't. Michaela is still missing, and the identity of her kidnapper is still unknown.
Michaela was kidnapped on November 19, 1988, at approximately 10:15 a.m., in Hayward, California (San Francisco Bay Area).
The location was at the corner of Mission Boulevard and Lafayette. At that time it was called Rainbow Market. Today it is Mexico Super.