Disappearances Of Young Girls Baffle Three Bay Area Communities
DUBLIN, Calif. (AP) _ Amber, Michaela and Ilene: young girls living anonymous lives in quiet, middle-class suburbs of San Francisco until one by one they disappeared without a trace.
It isn’t as if a child has never vanished, been kidnapped or run away from any of the commuter towns near the bay. But some see unsettling similarities in these three cases, although they remain unexplained and unsolved.
Seven-year-old Amber Schwart-Garcia vanished June 3 after she went to play in the front yard of her Pinole home.
Five months later, on Nov. 19, Amber’s case drew new attention. That was the day 9-year-old Michaela Joy Garecht was snatched by a stringy-haired stranger in a dingy car outside a market in Hayward, about 30 miles south of Pinole.
Michaela and a friend had ridden their scooters a short distance from home to get some candy and pop. The friend said she watched in horror as the man grabbed Michaela and roared off.
Hayward and Pinole are situated just off busy freeways that serve communities along San Francisco Bay. Near Hayward, Interstate 580 shoots off to the east, heading to other communities that share the two towns’ rambling housing tracts, kids on skateboards, fast-food restaurants and shopping malls.
Communities like Dublin, where 13-year-old Ilene Misheloff disappeared Monday.
She was last seen about 3 p.m., walking along a major thoroughfare on her way to a skating rink. Her family describes her as a good student, a girl who never varied from her routine without letting her parents know.
At first reluctant to categorize her disappearance as a kidnapping, investigators said Friday that she may indeed have been kidnapped.
Evidence of community concern is everywhere. Yellow ribbons dot virtually every major Dublin street. People can be seen posting pictures of Ilene on utility poles in the rain.
Ilene’s synagogue held a prayer service for her Thursday night and local churches plan to do the same in coming days.
″All the parents I know have sat their children down and talked to them,″ said Connie Spence, one of the volunteers who worked feverishly Friday answering phones, passing out fliers and accepting donations.
Robert E. Lee, a resident of Benicia about 35 miles north of Dublin, dropped by the volunteers’ headquarters with enough paper to make 45,000 fliers with Ilene’s picture.
″I’ve got 10 grandchildren,″ he said, ″so I feel for what’s happened.″
People traveling to Lake Tahoe and Oregon have picked up fliers, as did an airline pilot flying East. The Postal Service is passing out fliers in Dublin and Pleasanton along with the mail.
″We can’t even begin to understand the feelings of the parents,″ said Pleasanton Postmaster Jose Cantu. ″But we know that if it were our kids, we’d want help, too.″
At Ilene’s school, Wells Intermediate, few children walk to school alone these days.
″We all are being more careful,″ said Toni Dona, whose daughter is a classmate of Ilene’s. ″The kids are grouping together and the parents are car-pooling.″
″It’s constantly on their minds, when they see that empty chair next to them. It’s hard not to think about it,″ Dona said. ″Especially when you turn on the news every morning and hear about it. And now we’re not hearing anything - which is even worse.″
Police say they’ve received about 200 calls a day, not counting those coming in on the toll-free hotline.
The FBI has joined the investigation, but spokesman Chuck Latting said the agency has nothing more to report than police. There’s no proof Ilene’s disappearance is related to the others, but no evidence to rule out the possibility either, he said.
Ilene’s parents, Michael and Madelyne Misheloff, said they spoke with their children after Michaela’s disappearance, just as they had warned them before about being careful around strangers.
Before his daughter’s disappearance, Misheloff familiarized himself with a sketch of the suspect in the Garecht case. But he said he had not been unduly alarmed that the same thing could happen to his children.
″This is a very quiet community, low-crime area, where if there is a crime, you notice it ... not like in one of the large cities where there seems to be a serious crime just about every day,″ he said.
Ilene’s parents said they have no gut feeling about whether her disappearance is linked to the others.
″Unfortunately for all of us, three children are gone ... and one of them is our daughter,″ said Mrs. Misheloff, choking back tears.
″She’s not home, and it’s cold and it’s raining.″