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Category Archives: KlaasKids Foundation

Who Will Find Your Child?

Murder Victim Michelle Le

Murder Victim Michelle Le

I write to you as a proud member of the “misinformed” according to the statement by Rich Robinson on behalf of Sheriff Laurie Smith.

 

Once again a representative of Sheriff Laurie Smith makes a statement on record saying she CANNOT assist the civilian search effort for Sierra Lamar. Rich Robinson says “the Sheriff will do nothing to prejudice the case against the suspect.” He goes on to say, “She cannot comment and her uninformed opponents know it.”

 

I was asked the other day to explain just how I believe Sheriff Smith has stonewalled the civilian search for Sierra Lamar. BTW, one of the definitions of stonewall is “to behave in an obstructive manner as by withholding information.” I was also asked to explain how other law enforcement jurisdictions have responded to a KlaasKids organized search effort as opposed to how Sheriff Laurie Smith has responded. I need only to go back to the Hayward search for Michelle Le as a perfect example.

 

Within a few days after the KlaasKids Organization entered the search for Michelle Le our search leaders were given the following information by the detectives assigned to the case. We were advised that cell phone pings from Michelle Le’s phone showed that her phone went from the area of Kaiser Hospital in Hayward to the Sunol Valley. The phone stayed in the Sunol Valley for less than an hour before returning to the area of Kaiser Hospital. We were given much more information but the above information proved crucial to finding Michelle Le. For those of you unfamiliar with the Michelle Le case, the suspect killed her in the parking garage of the Kaiser Hospital in Hayward and then hid the victim’s body in a field in the Sunol Valley. The KlaasKids search focused on the Sunol Valley because that is where Hayward PD Investigators told us they believed her body would be found. Our civilian search team found Michelle Le in Sunol Valley on September 17, 2011.

 

Can someone please tell me how the Michelle Le case was prejudiced in any way by the fact that the Hayward Police Department assisted the civilian search effort?

 

It was the goal of the Hayward Police Department to find Michelle Le and they were willing to use ALL available resources to accomplish that goal. It is a terrible injustice to Sierra Lamar and her family that the Sheriff Laurie Smith is not willing to do the same. Let’s face the facts here. If Michelle Le had disappeared in Santa Clara County, Sheriff Smith would not have shared the information about the cell phone pings with the civilian search team and Michelle Le would still be missing.

 

Voters of Santa Clara County should know this. If your child turns up missing Sheriff Smith will NOT pull out all the stops to find your child. How scary is that?

 

But wait, I have more Mr. Robinson. And each time Sheriff Smith or her representatives bring up how she CAN’T help the civilian search I will give you more examples of how other law enforcement agencies have done exactly what Sheriff Smith says she CAN’T do. And there are many examples. Believe me. And just as important, I still cannot find a single case, nationwide, that was jeopardized, prejudiced, nor evidence excluded, as a result of any law enforcement agency assisting a civilian search team.

 

“Sheriff Smith says she will not prejudice the case against the suspect.” It sounds like she is more concerned about the suspect’s rights than the victim’s rights.

 

Yes, Mr. Robinson, one of us truly is misinformed. We’ll let the voters of Santa Clara County decide which one of us that is.

When A Victim Has No Voice

By Danny Domingo

I’ve spent the past hour reading blogs about the shortcomings of Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith.  In my minimal experience with only one Santa Clara County Sheriff’s investigation I would have to agree that the criticism is warranted.

 

Sierra LaMar

Sierra LaMar

My name is Danny Domingo and I am a retired police veteran of an east bay Police Department.  I have also volunteered with the KlaasKids Organization since 2000.  Currently I am embedded with the search for Sierra Lamar and have volunteered my time in this worthwhile effort for the past two years.  The Sierra Lamar search is the fourth high profile search in which I have been involved since meeting Marc Klaas in 1999.  The Sierra Lamar search is also the ONLY ONE of the four searches in which I’ve been involved where the local law enforcement jurisdiction has refused to assist the civilian search effort.  Instead, Sheriff Smith and her media representatives have stated multiple times, in one way or another that they wish they could discuss the case with the civilian search leaders but they CAN’T.  Allow me to make this point very clear.  The leaders of the search for Sierra Lamar have never asked Sheriff Smith or her representatives to discuss the case with us.  What we have asked for is assistance in identifying viable search areas.

 

In the first days, weeks and months of the search effort we asked Sheriff Smith and her Search and Rescue leaders to share the areas where they’ve searched so that the civilian team could leap frog those areas thereby searching a larger area in a shorter period of time.  The requests led to empty promises of assistance from the Sheriff.  Finally, in October 2013, nineteen months after Sierra Lamar disappeared; civilian search leaders finally received a map outlining search areas covered by county Search & Rescue teams.  Nineteen months during which body decomposition, animal destruction and weather conditions have taken its toll on any evidence which might have been recovered.

 

Xiana Fairchild

Xiana Fairchild

In my personal estimation, Sheriff Smith has hampered the search effort for Sierra Lamar.  A couple of examples if I may; 1) for several months in the beginning of the search Sheriff Smith refused to disclose that all of the clothing connected with Sierra Lamar had been recovered.  Hence, civilian search teams spent countless hours searching for, logging and documenting an exorbitant amount of female clothing found during searches.  All of this documentation was then turned over to the Sheriff’s Office.  Hundreds of hours could have been saved by a simple statement by the Sheriff’s Office saying, “We are not looking for any outstanding clothing.”  Yet, Sheriff Smith forced her investigators to remain mum about any information at all.  2) The civilian search leaders have asked the Sheriff Investigators to assist the civilian search effort by suggesting areas in which the suspect and his friends might have frequented so that searches could be conducted in those areas.  These requests have been met with no response by the Sheriff or her investigators.  3) There are rumors of the existence of a video surveillance photograph taken of the suspect showing his clothing in a particular state of disarray taken on the date of Sierra’s disappearance and the existence of medical records indicating the suspect was treated for a particular condition days after the disappearance of Sierra Lamar.  A simple confirmation or denial of these two rumors could do a lot to steer this search in a particular direction.  Once again, the requests were met with no response.  Having been an investigator for 16 of the 25 years I served in law enforcement, I fail to see how assistance in any of the above would jeopardize this case.

 

Murder Victim Michelle Le

Murder Victim Michelle Le

I have been researching missing person cases since the disappearance of my own niece, Xiana Fairchild in December 1999.  I have documented numerous cases in which missing persons have been located by civilian search teams.  In that same research I’ve yet to find a single case in which prosecution was compromised by the acts of a civilian search team member.  Conversely, I have a long list of cases in which SAR team members missed a body only to have the body discovered by a civilian or a civilian search team member at a later date.  The most recent example of this is the case of Michelle Le who was discovered by a KlaasKids search team in an area that had been searched by SAR teams up to three previous times.

 

The case against Antolin Garcia has all the appearances of being a very difficult case to win.  It is not a secret that juries find it difficult to convict the defendant in a capital case in which there is no body.  Is there any question in anyone’s mind that the best chances of finding a body now rests with the civilian search team?  Why then does Sheriff Smith and her investigators, to this very day, still refuse to assist the civilian search effort.

 

If Sheriff Smith or her investigators had a loved one missing they would want as many boots on the ground as possible as quickly as possible.  Perhaps the rules are different when the missing is not one of their own.

 

I don’t even live in Santa Clara County but I will be making a donation to the campaign of anybody running against Sheriff Laurie Smith.  It is time for a change in philosophy.

National Victim Rights Week

Victims 9

Today National Victim’s Rights Week was acknowledged on the West Steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento. Crime Victims United sponsored an event, so there were plenty of speeches and participating politicians included Governor Jerry Brown. However, it was the victims and murder victim family members who really stood out because each and every one interrupted their lives in order to take a stand for victim’s rights, acknowledge their lost loved ones, and lobby their legislators for effective public safety policy and legislation.

Victims Prayer

Victims Prayer

The importance of being personally involved in the political process cannot be overstated. I’ve been doing it since 1993, when my daughter was murdered by a violent offender with an extensive criminal history. In those days, there were very few legislative fall back positions for children who were being victimized. Call me a cynic, but I truly believe that was because kids don’t vote and politicians don’t have to look them in the eye. Therefore they didn’t have a real voice.

Victims 4

Things have changed enormously since then as the result of a series of tragic crimes and effective children’s advocates. We have Amber Alerts, Megan’s Law, law enforcement missing child protocols, and greater awareness and education surrounding child safety and child welfare issues.

Crime Victim's Harriet Salarno, Lexie Ashford, and Nina Salarno-Ashford

Crime Victim’s Harriet Salarno, Lexie Ashford, and Nina Salarno-Ashford

When I refer to being involved in the political process I’m not talking about the process as practiced in the houses of government that results in political perp walks on the 11:00 p.m. News. I don’t mean politicians like U.S. Congressman Mark Foley who left Washington D.C. in disgrace after he was found soliciting young boys serving as Congressional pages. I don’t mean pious hypocrites like Leland Yee, who I saw walking the halls of California’s Capitol on the day he got arrested, however I don’t think he’d been arrested yet because he wasn’t wearing handcuffs. I don’t mean corrupt politicians like state Senator’s Ronald Calderon and Roderick Wright who yesterday joined Yee in having their names and online archives disappear from the Senate website yesterday.

Sweet Polly...Never Forgotten!

Sweet Polly…Never Forgotten!

In 1995, I joined Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a coalition of prosecutors, police chiefs and crime victims lobbying for prevention funding for at-risk children. In 1995 the federal government was funding quality pre-school and after school activities for 10,000 children, but today, in large part because of people like you and me who became personally involved in the political process that number has grown to 1,000,000.

John

John

I don’t mean the ideological political process that paralyzes legislative bodies throughout the United States. People have differences, but can usually find common ground on the issues that are important to us, particularly if those issues regard the well-being of our kids. However, ideological politics has paralyzed the legislative process so that nothing meaningful ever gets done.

With 3-Strikes guru Mike Reynolds

With 3-Strikes guru Mike Reynolds

Let me give you an example that perfectly illustrates how popular and common sense policy concepts that cannot get a vote in the legislature can become law when people become involved. In 2011 I spent a lot of time here at the Capitol with Chris Kelly, Suzanne DiNubile and others lobbying for legislation requiring registered sex offenders to include Internet identifiers like email address and social networking handles. We watched as two separate bills died in committee. In 2012 that concept became an integral component of Prop. 35. Under Daphne Phung’s vision and leadership Prop. 35 passed by the widest margin of any initiative in California history with more than 81% of the vote.

Victims 6

Today I went to the Capitol because National Victim’s Rights week is April 6-12. It represents an opportunity for people like me to remind our elected officials what’s really important. I’ve always felt that their primary duty is public safety, but the isolation and insulation of this building confuses them and sometimes they need to be reminded what is important and who they serve.

No more victims

No more victims

Right now there is a disturbing trend in the Capitol that is putting us all at risk. Many of the accomplishments that cut California’s crime rate in half 20-years ago is being undone by the legislators in this very building. Governor Brown’s realignment policy has dumped tens of thousands of violent criminals onto our streets. The repeal of 3-strikes will allow thousands of lifers to go free. Failure to enforce Jessica’s Law has allowed an untold number of registered sex offenders to abscond. A law written by Senator Lee will allow remorseless killers to be released back into society, and finally Governor Brown’s decision to parole more than twice as many lifers than his three predecessors combined.

Color Guard

Without people like us making our views known to our elected officials we will find ourselves in dire straits. Because we live in dynamic communities that change and evolve and sometimes can be hazardous, while they live in marble lined halls where your hands don’t get dirty and your farts don’t smell. Sometimes they just need to be reminded that people matter, that showing the courage to do the right thing is more important than toeing the line for rigid ideology, or making decisions based on personal gain.

Fat Cats & Bureaucrats

Let’s set the record straight.

 

Search - Brad

Brad Dennis & Cheyenne

On February 4, 2014 an FBI press release publicized the recovery of 16 children during a Super Bowl sex trafficking sting. Many of the children traveled to New Jersey from other states specifically to be prostituted at the Super Bowl. The children ranged in age from 13 to 17-years old, including high school students and children who had been reported missing by their families.  Additionally, more than 45-pimps and their associates were arrested during the Blitz the Traffickers sting operation. Arrests were made and victims recovered in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

 

A coalition of grass roots nonprofit organizations (NPO) partnered with law enforcement on Blitz the Traffickers, but the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) was the only NPO mentioned in the FBI release. According to GuideStar, in 2012, NCMEC received a $31,715,505 grant from the United States Department of Justice to pursue their mission of helping to prevent child abduction and sexual exploitation; help find missing children; and assist victims of child abduction and sexual exploitation, their families, and the professionals who serve them. The NCMEC (2012) IRS Form 990 allocates $11,407,540 to, “Provide technical assistance and provide case analysis to assist law enforcement in their efforts to locate and recover missing children and victims of domestic child sex trafficking and to locate and apprehend noncompliant sex offenders”.

 

The NCMEC did not put boots on the ground at Super Bowl XLVIII. Instead, they distributed names and photographs of children they believe might be trafficked to the authorities; and they equipped law enforcement with “hope bags” containing items like flip flops and toothpaste for children rescued from prostitution. This is not a lot of bang for your buck.

Stop Sex Exploitation

Under the leadership of Search and Rescue Director Brad Dennis, KlaasKids, which receives no government funding, has been working with the New Jersey State Police since May 2013 and has participated in several of their sting operations leading up to the big game.  We were embedded with the law enforcement Super Bowl operation from January 28-February 1.  During this time, KlaasKids worked in direct contact with Federal and State intelligence analysts providing information to the operational elements of the law enforcement operation. Our role was two-fold: Providing specific leads regarding online advertisements which had a number of indicators suggesting the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Our most beneficial role was to provide additional analysis to any lead the FBI/NCMEC or other agencies provided to the intelligence unit. Our ability to conduct deep-web searches and scrub the initial ad looking for corroborative information enabled us to provide enhanced intelligence to the undercover operation, as well as, to the interviewers.

In Our BackyardThe KlaasKids Foundation was but one component in a nonprofit coalition that participated in the Blitz the Traffickers operation. For more than a year  Nita Belles worked with the New Jersey Attorney General’s office and local trafficking task forces to overcome operational obstacles and ensure the success of Blitz the Traffickers. The Pensacola based Called2Rescue team provided monitoring services of online escort ads and forwarded over 200-leads to the KlaasKids team in New Jersey. KlaasKids then scrubbed those leads for additional corroboration and submitted 23-specific leads to law enforcement. Several of these leads were in neighboring areas/states and were forwarded to those respective units by the FBI analysts. Free International and StudentReach developed a school assembly program featuring a state-of-the-art 3D multi-media production to prevent child exploitation and features posters of several of the missing children to 30-schools and 6-colleges in New Jersey. Global Child Rescue and Stop Sex Exploitation mobilized local faith based partners to disseminate the awareness posters and missing child books throughout New York and New Jersey.

Free International School Assembly

Free International School Assembly

5000-booklets containing images of 43-regional missing children along with 75,000-football cards featuring 3-missing children were distributed in New Jersey and Times Square, NY.  40,000-human trafficking awareness posters, designed by the Attorney General’s office featuring the New Jersey Human Trafficking Hotline were disseminated. Specific highlights of the Blitz the Traffickers operation included: 16-minors rescued.  27-pimps and/or associates were arrested in New Jersey and 17 in New York.

Global Child Rescue

Unlike the Arlington, VA based NCMEC and Washington, DC headquartered Polaris Project, the Blitz the Traffickers nonprofit coalition did not receive government funding. However, while NCMEC sent pictures and bags full of shampoo and water bottles, and the Polaris Project whined, the Super Bowl nonprofit coalition got busy. They directly assisted in rescuing children, apprehending pimps, and raising awareness about an issue that touches our soul deeply.

Called to Rescue

It seems to me that if American citizens are going to financially support missing child and anti-trafficking nonprofit organizations, they should expect a response that influences policy change through action, dedication and determination. Instead, our national treasure is being squandered on fat cats and bureaucrats.  As a nation we deserve better than that.

Sierra LaMar: Anatomy of a Search Day 365!

DSC_0092I never expected that we would hit this milestone: Sierra LaMar has been missing for a year! That means that her family has endured four seasons of not knowing where their beautiful daughter/sister is. Their Saturday morning ritual has become routine. Get up very early, put on your best face, grab a mug of coffee, drive to Morgan Hill and hope that when you turn into the Sierra Search Center yours isn’t the only car in the parking lot. To date those specific fears have not been realized, but that doesn’t mean that there’s not plenty left to be fearful of. Marlene LaMar recently told me that, “It has been a long journey, and the most difficult thing is not having the answers which makes waiting feel infinite. The loss and pain has been indescribable.”

 

Last year hundreds of strangers came together to look for a teenaged girl who disappeared while walking to the school bus early on a foggy, wet and windy Friday morning. Last Saturday, a community of about fifty friends gathered for Morning Prayer as they have been doing virtually every week for a year. They stood in a circle, heads bowed and hands held as the Lord’s name was invoked and his guidance was sought. It was a touching sight, profound in its determination and its loyalty.

Press conference 6.13.12

Two-hundred-ninety-eight days ago Antolin Garcia-Torres was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and murdering Sierra. His DNA was discovered on items that Sierra had with her when she disappeared, and her DNA was found inside his car, but he told the authorities that he had never met the young girl. One-hundred-twenty-one days ago Torres-Garcia was further charged with three separate charges of kidnapping women during the commission of a carjacking. He has yet to enter a plea on any of the charges.

Midsi and Marlene LaMar

Midsi and Marlene LaMar

Torres-Garcia holds the truth that so many desperately want to know, and he turns his back on common decency. Since he invoked his right to be represented by a lawyer, the authorities don’t question him. Because he is so despised by the other inmates at the Santa Clara County Jail, he is held in protective custody. There is nothing like staring your own mortality in the face, so I believe that the prospect of the death penalty might finally bring the truth forward. Nothing else has worked.

The Kitchen Ladies: MA, Loretta, Margaret, Vivian, Mary

The Kitchen Ladies: MA, Loretta, Margaret, Vivian, Mary

Tomorrow morning the public and media will join Sierra’s family and the search volunteers at the Search Center which is located at 85 Tilton Ave., Morgan Hill. There will be a press conference at 9:00 a.m., followed by a balloon release. Then searchers will be dispatched to look for signs of Sierra. I expect the mood to be as hopeful as the day is beautiful. The trouble is that with this case storm clouds are never far off the horizon.

Legacy

Legacy is defined as something transmitted by or received from the past. In my business, which so often deals with the aftermath of loss, legacy is at the vanguard of peoples thoughts. While it might not have been at the forefront of our minds when all was well, it becomes integrally tied into future considerations as we cope with the loss of a loved one. The closer our relationship to the one who has passed, the more we think about their legacy.

 

8-year-old Polly Klaas

When the past arrives suddenly and without invitation defining a legacy is a way to make sense of the senseless, and to give meaning to death. It was thoughts of legacy that helped me ascend from the depths of the abyss after Polly’s tragedy in 1993. She had given beautiful meaning to her life, but after October 1, she only existed in memory and risked being measured as nothing more than a statistical abstraction. I wanted to ensure that her death had meaning; that it was not in vain. To achieve that goal I had to create her legacy.

 

Violet and I thought that the Polly Klaas Foundation would be the instrument of that legacy, but instead we were deceived. Finally, the KlaasKids Foundation, which we founded and controlled, became the vessel upon which her legacy would be conceived and implemented. Stop Crimes Against Children became our mission and Polly was our beacon. Almost 20-years later, we feel a sense of accomplishment and truly believe that Polly’s death represents more than a point on a pie chart.

 

Amber Harris Video In Omaha, Nebraska the parents of twelve-year-old Amber Harris struggled mightily to define the legacy of their slain daughter. On November 29, 2005 Amber got off of the school bus at the wrong stop and was never seen alive again. Her remains were discovered in a shallow grave on May 10, 2006. The man sentenced to death for kidnapping, raping and murdering Amber was a registered sex offender who lived near her bus stop. At Amber’s publicly televised memorial her mother announced that her legacy would include school bus rerouting so that proximity to the homes of level 3 registered sex offenders could be avoided. Amber’s parents were successful in that effort.

 

 

 

Megan Kanka & Megan’s Law

So many laws are named after murdered children. When the mother of seven-year-old Megan Kanka quietly and eloquently told reporters that if she had known that a high risk sex offender lived across the street she never would have allowed her daughter to play alone in the front yard, it struck a public nerve. Since 1996, convicted sex offenders in the United States have been required to register with local law enforcement and citizens have been able to access that information to protect their families. Megan’s legacy is Megan’s Law.

 

In 2005, little Jessica Lunsford was sexually abused and murdered by a level 3 sex offender neighbor in rural Florida. Her father Mark began touring State Capitols lobbying for legislation that would classify lewd or lascivious molestation on a person under the age of 12 as a life felony, and a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison and lifetime electronic monitoring of adults convicted of lewd or lascivious molestation against a victim less than 12 years old. Jessica’s Law has been enacted in more than 40-states and Jessica Lunsford’s legacy will protect children for decades to come.

 

Legacy can be manifested in many forms. Every time that Michael Le and Krystine Dinh volunteer at the Sierra Search Center they add to their beloved sister and cousin Michelle Le’s legacy. Like so many others who volunteer with the KlaasKids Foundation or the Sierra Search Center, they have found a way to pay their loss forward through legacy building. You can create a movement that will change the world; you can conduct your life in a way that will honor the memory of the child, brother, sister, mother or father who inspires thoughts of legacy; or you can do any and all things in between. One is no more important than the other. What is important is that you honor the memory of loss in a way that soothes your mind and allows you to sleep at night knowing that you have created meaning out of death.

 

While Polly’s years were few, her stature diminutive and her experience was limited, her legacy is as vast as her courage. She inspired us to be bigger, better and more than we otherwise would have been. Through the work of the KlaasKids Foundation her final act has reverberated from the family kitchen table to the president’s cabinet table.

Betrayal

Soon after my daughter Polly was kidnapped on October 1, 1993, she became known as America’s child. Donations to assist and facilitate the search poured in from the far corners of America. Violet and I founded the nonprofit Polly Klaas Foundation (PKF) to best administer funds and to protect ourselves from potential speculation that we would misappropriate money donated to help find Polly. We wanted to be proactive in ensuring that the focus remained on finding Polly.

 

Nonprofit organizations are governed by a Board of Directors. For the PKF we chose individuals who were prominent during the early days of the search. In fact, Violet and I left much of the organizing to those very people as we immersed ourselves in the search for our missing daughter. We named the organization after Polly because the donations, the focus and the hope was all about my daughter. Before the month of October, 1993 ended the Internal Revenue Service had conferred nonprofit status on the PKF.

 

Board responsibilities included fundraising, program development and financial management. Generally, Boards of Directors do not become involved in the day to day running of an organization. Those are tasks that are left to the nonprofit’s President, Executive Director, and staff.

 

Upon learning of Polly’s tragic death on Dec. 4, it was our intention to lobby for laws that would protect children, use the remaining $283,000 to help find other missing children, and continue fundraising, but the PKF Board made it difficult to accomplish these objectives. They seemed more concerned about protecting (their) assets and enjoying the status of sitting on the Board of a high profile nonprofit organization. This resulted in deep and ingrained tension between Violet, me and the Board. Violet, who was not a member of the Board, was not allowed to attend meetings. At these meetings I often found myself with very few allies.

 

Janet Reno’s visit to Petaluma in July, 1994 was a good example of my conflict with the Board. I had secured the United States Attorney General to speak at a town hall meeting to discuss crimes against children. As a result, the PKF Board accused me of grandstanding. They reasoned that if the Attorney General’s visit was a success I would receive the glory, but if it failed they would take the blame. After Ms. Reno’s visit, which went very well, drew massive media attention, and filled the hall at the Petaluma Community Center, relations between the Board and me became even more strained.

President Clinton signing the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994

Within a year of my daughter’s kidnapping several events foreshadowed our rocky nonprofit experience and lonely crusade. On September 13, 1994, I stood on the podium with President Clinton at the White House when he signed The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The President gave me the first pen that he used to sign the bill. The Crime Bill provided for 100,000 new cops, allocated $6.1-billion in prevention funds for at risk children, and nearly $10-billion for prison construction costs.

 

Within days of my invitation to join the president the PKF Board informed me that I was no longer allowed to pursue criminal justice legislation. They argued that a non-profit organization is prohibited from advocating for new laws. They knew that this was not accurate. What was happening was the PKF Board had created a mission limitation that did not include legislation. Violet and I believed that Polly’s legacy had to include powerful public policy positions that would protect other children from her tragedy.

 

Without hesitation and a sense of urgency a separate non-profit application to create what would become known as the KlaasKids Foundation had been submitted from which to lobby, advocate and promote legislation. The PKF Board said that I had created a conflict of interest by finding an avenue that would allow me to pursue goals that they forbade me from pursuing. This was their justification for expelling me from the nonprofit that bore my daughter’s name. Ironically, the current PKF website states that a primary objective is to effect legislation which, “Will ensure that children can be safe in their own homes and communities.”

 

Within one year and 20-days of my daughter’s death, on October 21, 1994, without my knowledge, the PKF Board secured a trademark for the name Polly Klaas. My daughter’s name now belonged to the Polly Klaas Foundation.

 

Within a month of trademarking my daughter’s name, while Violet and I were out of town, the PKF Board voted me off the board during a secret meeting. This was the first Board meeting that I did not attend since the inception of the organization. Over the telephone the Board President informed me that I was expelled from the nonprofit organization that bore my daughter’s name. I felt that I had lost my daughter yet again. Violet and I were no longer welcome at the Foundation that we had created and hoped would become Polly’s legacy. We had been betrayed.

 

When Violet and I were locked out of the PKF we had $2,000, a fledgling nonprofit that would become the KlaasKids Foundation and knives in our backs. We felt that we had lost our daughter yet again. With a sense of urgency we believed that there was no time to lose, because otherwise everyone would forget. We struggled. Violet worked a full time job; I volunteered my time to KlaasKids. We lived frugally, turning our home into an office. We worked 18-hour days writing, advocating, traveling and otherwise pursuing our window of opportunity. Fortunately, our voice and our passion were being heard on television, radio, in the op-ed pages of newspapers and at KlaasKids events throughout the country.

 

It was through KlaasKids that we built a solid reputation for action and accomplishment. Meanwhile the PKF struggled. With just a few months of operating expenses left in their account, PKF launched a high profile car donation program. For the next several years a confused public donated millions of dollars’ worth of vehicles in Polly’s name despite the fact that the PKF produced minimal results.

 

The sense of betrayal continues to this day. Today it was brought to my attention that there is an organization exploiting missing Morgan Hill cheerleader Sierra LaMar for profit. The families who suffer and are victimized by the loss of their children are victimized yet again by those who steal, exploit or profit off of personal tragedy. I have witnessed too many instances of family members pursuing a legacy in honor of their loved one only to have their organization hijacked.

 

Shame on them! People or groups who oust family members betray the memories of crime victims by heaping insult upon injury. Sometimes I can still feel the knife in my back, but I take solace in the knowledge that Polly was my child and that her legacy is my destiny. KlaasKids may not bare Polly’s name, but we have created her legacy and given meaning to her death. One of the lessons of betrayal is to remain strong and not allow it to tarnish our character.

 

 

 

 

 

Proposition 35 and Human Sex Trafficking

On November 6, California voters can launch the single largest movement against human trafficking in our country and pass the toughest anti-human trafficking law in the United States by voting YES on Proposition 35. We will deliver a firm statement to traffickers around the world that we take slavery seriously and care about those in bondage.

 

Human trafficking, the modern day equivalent of slavery, became an American legislative priority when President Bush signed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000. Human trafficking, which includes labor and sex trafficking, is acknowledged as the second most profitable international criminal enterprise after drug smuggling. Victims of human trafficking are forced or coerced to work or commit sexual acts by violent criminals who strip them of their dignity and their freedom.

The TVPA was based on the theory that the United States is a destination country for human trafficking. However, original TVPA estimates of 50,000 women and children trafficked into the United States annually have since been downgraded to 14,500-17,500 per year, so initial estimates were reduced by more than two-thirds after the legislation was signed into law. The direction of the TVPA, which agencies would administer it, and which populations would be targeted were based upon seriously flawed data.

 

The Federal definition of sex trafficking includes when, “a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.” It is very simple: according to Federal law, children can never consent to prostitution, it is always exploitation. A person who has not attained 18 years of age and is induced to perform a commercial sex act is then a victim of human sex trafficking. Therefore, all underage youth who are involved in prostitution, and who are under the influence of a pimp, are by definition, victims of human sex trafficking.”

 

Between 1.6 and 2.8 million children run away annually in the U.S., half of which are girls. Within 48 hours of hitting the streets, one third of these children are lured or recruited into the underground world of prostitution or pornography.  The average age at which girls first become victims of prostitution is 12-14.  For boys, the entry age is 11-13.

 

These harrowing statistics provides broad justification for a growing focus upon the domestic side of this issue, because the statistics conclusively demonstrate that the USA is a source country as well as a destination country for Human Sex Trafficking. Unfortunately, the vast majority of resources unleashed by the TVPA are still globally directed. This is why Prop 35 is so important to California’s future.

 

In addition, current California law is inadequate to deal with the realities of human trafficking in our state. The California Trafficking Victims Protection Act (CTVPA), passed in 2005, established human trafficking for forced labor or services as a felony crime punishable by a sentence of 3, 4 or 5 years in state prison and a sentence of 4, 6 or 8 years for trafficking of a minor. Incredibly, according to California law, there is no stated penalty for sex trafficking of a minor without force. The CTVPA was written when domestic human trafficking was viewed as a crime impacting mainly foreign nationals brought into this country. It overlooked thousands of American minors and adults who were also exploited.

Proposition 35 will eliminate barriers to prosecute child sex traffickers by removing the requirement to prove “force, fraud or coercion” of a minor trafficking victim. Prop 35 will deter traffickers in California with higher penalties and fines, use fines to fund victim services, mandate training for law enforcement officers, require convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders, require all sex offenders to disclose Internet accounts, and protect victims in court proceedings.

 

The choice is clear. On November 6, California voters can draw a line in the sand and stand up for domestic victims of human sex trafficking, or we can continue a status quo approach that criminalizes young victims as it celebrates some of the most heinous criminals in our midst: human sex traffickers. I am going to vote Yes on Prop 35, because to turn our backs on the tens of thousands of children being trafficked in California is simply another form of victimization.

We Found Something

It has been a busy weekend for KlaasKids. We facilitated a meeting between the Sierra LaMar Search Center, her family and Congressman Jerry McNerney (CA-11) on Saturday morning. Simultaneously, we participated in an important grass roots rally on behalf of Proposition 35 in Elk Grove. After that Violet and I drove to Sacramento where KlaasKids Foundation SAR Director Brad Dennis was facilitating a weekend worth of searches for missing UC Davis coed Linnea Lomax. Then we found something.

 

Congressman McNerney is the first member of Congress to visit search center since Congressman Mike Honda (CA-15) visited on June 6. Both members of Congress have expressed support for a legislation being considered as a result of Sierra’s disappearance. The new law would close the loophole that allows schools to wait until the end of the day before notifying parents that their children did not attend school.

Violet Klaas, Daphne Phung, Rosario Dowling & Me!

Proposition 35 continues to pick up support as Election Day approaches on November 6. Currently, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Congresswoman Jackie Speier lead a list of more than 60-elected officials who publicly support the anti-trafficking ballot measure that will also bridge Megan’s Law into the 21st Century. They are joined by law enforcement groups representing more than 90,000-sworn police officers and more than 125-child advocacy organizations throughout California.

 

Linnea Lomax is a 19-year-old coed student who disappeared on the early afternoon of Tuesday June 26 after walking away from an outpatient mental health facility near the American River in Sacramento, California. The day before, June 25, Linnea had been released from a psychiatric facility where she was recovering from a psychological breakdown. On July 4, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department absolved themselves of any responsibility for locating Linnea, despite her fragile mental state, when they said, “Circumstances suggest she is, by all accounts, voluntarily missing and choosing to stay away from friends and family.” Potential sightings, theories and tips that initially flooded the tip line set up by Linnea’s family have since been reduced to a trickle.

 

Left to their own devices the family hired a private investigator to lead the search for Linnea. He focused his investigation on human sex trafficking. KlaasKids assisted this effort by monitoring known websites that advertise escort and erotic services up and down the West Coast, but nothing of consequence turned up. Despite no real evidence that she was involved in the trafficking trade valuable weeks were devoted to that singular scenario. Finally, the family let the private investigator go and eventually asked the KlaasKids Foundation to conduct a search of Linnea.

 

Linnea’s family runs a Christian kids adventure camp near Sacramento. She has grown up among the pristine hills, canyons, valleys, and rivers of Northern California’s Sierra foothills. She was raised near in and around nature, and has a very strong sense of natural surroundings and the environment. She would not leave an orange peel at a camp site out of a concern that the next camper might be offended.

 

This past Friday, Saturday and Sunday KlaasKids sent 230 search volunteers on 40-search assignments. Search volunteers were a combination of family, friends, others drawn from the faith based community, complete strangers, and KlaasKids friends from the Bay Area. The sun was shining brightly and the temperature was in the high 80-90’s range. We focused the search on the American River for two reasons. It was near the mental health facility that she was last seen at, and she was familiar with and loved the American River. It almost always makes sense to focus a search near the last place the victim was last seen.

 

Linnea’s Notebook

On Sunday afternoon one of the search teams found it. Linnea’s notebook, the one she was holding when last seen was there…in the bushes only two blocks away from the mental health facility. It was near a foot path heading toward the river. It seemed to have been flung into the bushes. Our team leader contacted the search center and the authorities. Linnea’s father confirmed the sighting. Now the evidence needs to be processed.

 

Fifty-four days after she disappeared we have developed our first solid lead. We believe that Linnea tossed her notebook into the bushes. Much can be read into that, but it is not my place to do so. What I do feel comfortable pointing out is that in the past five months we have sent out somewhere in the neighborhood of 9,000 volunteers on approximately 900 search assignments in and around Morgan Hill and we have not found anything relating to the disappearance of Sierra LaMar. Stay tuned for updates.