When an AMBER Alert is issued, as a mother and the Editor of BellaOnline’s Missing and Exploited Children site for over 7 years, my heart races. I look to see where the AMBER Alert was issued from and what the circumstances are surrounding the child or children. If it is a non-custodial parent versus a stranger kidnapping the chances are greater the child or children will be found unharmed.
Many people simply do not realize all the ins and outs involved in issuing an AMBER Alert. If a child disappears and no one witnessed the disappearance then police have to determine if the child was abducted and is in imminent danger or if he or she wandered off. I knew tuesday after receiving the AMBER Alert for Hailey Owens it was bad.
There is what law enforcement like to refer to in a stranger abduction as the golden hour. The more times that passes, the less likely the child will be found alive. When the AMBER Alert went out it was after 7 pm. The AMBER Alert stated the girl was pulled into a truck around 5:48 pm. I looked at my husband and said “oh god we need to pray for this little girl.”
Then throughout the night I checked my smart phone and before looking to see if she was safe I said my angel prayer. Angels above Hailey, Angels below Hailey, Angels all around Hailey to keep her safe. I saw that they had found the abductor and placed him under arrest for kidnapping. There was no mention of Hailey. I knew she was dead...and I cried.
The next morning before leaving for work my husband held me close as I cried more tears. I will never understand how anyone can hurt a child?! I cried for close to an hour. I am not only crying for Hailey, but for all the children living in my heart that I have read about, researched, loved, prayed for, written about, and watched helplessly as they were found dead. I cry for their families who are facing the hardest, darkest days ahead of them.
As I drove to work that day around noon, I wondered why the news media and law enforcement kept referring to finding a body, but not declaring it was the body of 10 year old Hailey Owens. On my drive home a few hours later I heard that they had charged the man believed to be her abductor with first degree murder. They were still not identifying the body as Hailey's, and then it hit me, something happened where they could not make a positive identification. I arrived home and said to my love, “he did something really bad to Hailey's body?”
A short time later we learned she had a single gunshot to the back of her head at the base of the skull.
The perpetrator has been identified as an employee of the Springfield Missouri Public School System. His name is Craig Michael Wood. He worked for twenty years with kids as a teacher's assistant and a coach for the middle school. However, when I saw his picture I asked, “how do they let him work with kids with that long hair and scraggly beard." Yet, the thing I noticed most was how dark his eyes were in the picture posted online. I see those eyes a lot in very bad people.
Later as more of the story has emerged, I learned there were neighbors who tried to help Hailey. The kidnapper pulled up right in front of a husband and wife sitting in their garage. Thankfully, they witnessed the abduction and were responsible for notifying local police of the license plate, description of the abductor, and the vehicle. I read where another neighbor chased after in his vehicle but the truck was driving erratically and at high speeds in a residential neighborhood so he back off. My husband said, "he would not have gotten away from me." I replied, "you do not know that." I said, "No one can know what or how one will respond when something like this happens right in front of them" and he agreed.
Now the details are emerging from search warrants issued for the home where Hailey was taken. The list includes, cameras, televisions, camcorders, pictures of children, ammunition, guns, bleach, duct tape, and a single spent .22 caliber rifle casing. These items were found in the basement of the home where he lived with his father. I am willing to bet there are kids in the Springfield Missouri area who have been filmed or abused by this monster over the past two decades.
I know Hailey is resting safely in God’s arms but it is times like this that make one wonder, what the hell has this world come to when someone can steal a child just houses away from where she lives and within hours kill her like an animal. Sadly, I do not believe this is the end of the story with the coach. I truly believe it is going to blow open a whole new case of child sexual abuse in a smaller community. Soon we will begin hearing about more victims whose lives were affected by the man with the dark eyes. I pray to God I am wrong.
Please pray for the Owens family to find healing and strength in the hard days ahead. As I write this their is a candle light vigil and memorial walk occurring in Springfield, Missouri. It is estimated that close to ten thousand people have turned out to remember the short life of a precious little girl and to support her family. How beautiful it is that a community can pull together to support Hailey's family. Now, if only our nation could love and support each other everyday in rush hour, or at the mall, or while waiting in line at McDonald's.
Fly with the angels sweet Hailey. You have touched the lives of a nation and you will never be forgotten. You are safe now in the wings of Angels. Now we pray for justice to be served in your honor. I have wondered for years, what would happen if public hangings were allowed for people who hurt kids.
The one thing I have learned in situations such as Hailey's is her murderer has rights. What rights did Hailey have? The right to a safe place to live without the fear of being snatched off the street? The right to not be hurt by adults? The right to not be murdered by a child predator? When will we put the rights of our children before the rights of child predators? I know it will never happen in my lifetime and that is the hardest part for me to write.
I went into my 16 year old son's room the morning after the AMBER Alert for Hailey Owens. I hugged him close before he got up for school. He allowed his mom to hold him briefly and kiss his face through my tears. Then, after a couple minutes he asked me why I was so sad. I asked him if he remembered what I told him about the AMBER Alert that went out last night, and when he nodded, I said the little girl has been found but it is not good.
For those of you who read to the end of this article "thank you." Please feel free to remember Hailey Owens in the free Missing and Exploited Children forum here at BellaOnline. And, always take the time to hug your children and loved ones close.