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Small Town Stunned By Kidnapping

June 5, 1985

SOMONAUK, Ill. (AP) _ The abduction of a second-grade girl as she bicycled with a friend has left the 1,100 residents of this rural community in ″shock and disbelief″ as they ponder the first kidnapping here in recent memory.

″I’ve lived here for 28 years, all my life. You never had to worry about anything,″ said a weeping Sheree Ackerman, whose daughter, 7-year-old Melissa Ackerman, was kidnapped Sunday seven blocks from home. ″It’s not somebody from this town that did it. It’s just not.″

Mrs. Ackerman said Somonauk, 70 miles southwest of Chicago, ″used to be a good place to bring up a child.″

″Now, I don’t know,″ she said, adding, ″They’ve just got to keep looking for her. They’ve got to find her. I keep praying they’ll find her.″

A man arrested on an unrelated charge in neighboring Kane County was being questioned about the girl’s kidnapping, according to a statement issued late Tuesday night by De Kalb County Sheriff Roger Scott. But the statement said the man had ″denied being involved in our case and is just one of a great many suspects we will have to continue to follow up on.″

Mrs. Ackerman’s employer, Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., offered a $10,000 reward Tuesday for information leading to Melissa’s safe return. Another $7,500 in reward money is being offered by Somonauk residents who have established a fund at a local bank where additional contributions may be sent.

Scott said this was the first kidnapping in Somonauk that he could remember in his 16 years with the sheriff’s office. ″This is not the type of thing that happens around here - until now,″ he said Tuesday.

Police have received a ″deluge of calls″ from people hoping to offer tips in the case, said De Kalb County sheriff’s Capt. Jim Laben. But there was ″Nothing conclusive or what I would even call solid,″ he said Tuesday night.

Residents are ″shocked, angry and afraid,″ said Village Clerk Denny Wiley, one of the 100 to 150 residents who have helped search for Melissa along gravel roads and in woods, abandoned farmhouses and out-buildings.

″Somebody’s ... violated our privacy, our rights. ... You don’t see kids outside playing in the yards after suppertime like you used to,″ Wiley said.

At the red-brick Somonauk Grade School on Tuesday, Melissa’s principal, Jim Wood, said pupils felt both ″shock and disbelief″ and that people probably would become more aware of outsiders - ″someone around that is not familiar.″

Melissa’s teacher, Helen Johnson, said that when she drove through the community Sunday afternoon, ″there wasn’t a child in sight.″

″Everybody had pulled them off the streets and into their houses,″ she said.

Mrs. Johnson said several parents picked up their children at school so they wouldn’t have to walk home alone Monday.

She said she explained the situation to the children and reviewed safety practices with them. At the end of the day, she cried.

″One of the children said, ‘I’ve never seen a teacher cry before,’ and I said, ’Well, even teachers have to cry.‴

The friend who was cycling with Melissa has said the man tried to grab both girls. Melissa’s companion escaped.

State police and the FBI are working on the case with sheriff’s police, armed with a composite drawing of the suspect provided by Melissa’s friend.

The suspect was described as thin, 5 feet 3 to 5 feet 8, in his mid 20s, with straight short brown hair, a mustache and several days of beard growth, Laben said.

Melissa is about 4 feet tall, has light brown hair, brown eyes and is missing two top front teeth.

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