The ugly truth is that none of us had had much hope for Carlesha Freeland-Gaither.
Abductions rarely end well in the media. Heroic endings have been somewhat of an anomaly. There, caught on camera and uploaded to countless media outlets and blogs, we could all experience her kidnapping, where she struggled against her attacker, crying and swiping—and I admit that some terrible part of me assumed she was dead and that was unfortunately that.
A recent FBI study showed that 40 percent of all missing persons cases are people of color and African Americans held 33.8 percent of that 40, and women more so than men. Cases involving minorities are put on the backburner, assumed to be drug-related or somehow otherwise the victim's fault, hardly ever put into media circulation. Statistically, Carlesha's abduction fit a pattern, suggesting she would have never been found or found alive. If I were to go missing, I'd fit her pattern, the brown-face pattern, and my country would not weep for my loss.
When I was a young child, California was rocked by the abduction of Polly Klaas. In 1993, Richard Allen Davis snatched Klass from her own home in the middle of her own slumber party. Her name made national headlines. I had friends whose parents joined the search in Petaluma. In school, a teacher assigned us to write letters to her parents. We scribbled with pencils onto ruler paper, phrases we'd heard our parents repeat: "Sorry for your loss", "Such a nice girl, undeserving of this", "In my prayers every day". We ran out of time. Our teacher clapped her hands—finish up! I scribbled at the bottom, "I'm going to help find her!" Then stuck my letter in an envelope and placed it on the growing stack.
That night, I kept my promise. I crept past my parents' room, found my daddy's heavy flashlight in his study, and went outside to look for Polly Klaas. I didn't make it past the next block. And as I slipped back in my house, I remember thinking that I was doing something Polly Klaas could not. I crawled into my parents' bed that night. Slithering over my mother's belly until I was in between their warm bodies and we slept. Police found Polly's twelve-year-old body some time later. Strangled, legs splayed, clothes hiked above the waist. Davis was sent to prison in 1996.
My sophomore year of college at Penn State University, in 2001, I attended a candlelight vigil for Cindy Song on the anniversary of her disappearance. An international student from South Korea, she'd gone missing after a Halloween party and wasn't reported as so until November 4. Blogs were not as ubiquitous they are today when Cindy Song went missing. Twitter and Facebook didn't exist. There was only the Cindy Song Coalition, made up of thirty students—not even a sizeable percentage of our massive student body. I never saw Song's name on the national news cycle. Never saw her "missing" poster further than the telephone poles of Happy Valley. No body was found. No suspect fingered. Her case was deemed cold by the time I graduated.
Every now and again I type "Cindy Song" into the search-bar, hoping for a surprise. I recently came across this picture. It's of three people. Song's mother, Ban Soon Song, clutching Cindy's reward poster, the very one I used to see around campus. She's studying it, disconnected from the mayhem around her. Next to her is her attorney, Jin Han, hands up and mouth captured mid-sentence, and next to him is David Davis, secretary of the Black Caucus, hands folded over his mouth as he listens. The caption read that they were speaking against the police's lack of interest in Song's search.
There was no media cycle on Song, no large effort by community leaders, just a light buzz that came and went on the anniversary of her disappearance. People had long given up—and Ban Soon Song, the way she looked at her daughter's poster, I imagine she's trying to recall Cindy's voice. For so many who have lost, that's the first memory that erodes, something as simple as your loved one's voice. Gone in days.
Dwayne Fletcher was present when Freeland-Gaither was attacked. He heard her screams, but could not successfully intervene against the kidnapper's 12-inch knife. He was quoted by multiple sources as saying he cried and cried, but felt it was too late.
Fletcher stayed at the scene long after the car holding a thrashing and window-breaking Freeland-Gaither drove away. He called 9-1-1, retrieved her cell phone, and handed it over to the police. Her face hit the social-media-sphere immediately after. Cycled through circles by the revered "Black twitter" and personal social-media circles on Facebook. That's how I learned about Freeland-Gaither. Not by CNN, FOX, or ABC, but by a friend who shared a "missing person's report" on Facebook. Post or tweet if you see her!
Two years out of college, I was working in Washington, DC. My friend and I were walking home from a Killswitch Engage concert, along U Street NW, when we passed by an alleyway. From it, we could hear grunts and a woman's voice, crying, "Stop! Stop!" We peeked in and saw two bodies, the larger one holding the other in a bear hug, jabbing her in the stomach over and over as she tried to wriggle free. Fear threatened to chase me away—that man could have easily turned his rage on us—but my friend began to scream, "Stop beating that woman! Stop beating that woman!"
He wasn't deterred.
I called the police.
My friend yelled at a group of men approaching us to help. They chose to cross the street. We noticed a police car passing us. My friend leaped into the street and flung herself in their path, causing the car to buck to a stop. They'd barely rolled down their window when another car cut into the alleyway and shined its headlights on the commotion (whether the driver had seen the altercation or just happened to turn left, I still don't know). The perpetrator fled, leaving his victim wet-faced and panting, her arms wrapped guardedly around the part of her torso where she'd been struck.
The car door swung open, and out stepped Barack Obama. Well, not actually Barrack Obama, but a man who bore a freakish resemblance to Barack Obama, wearing an Obama 2008 sweatshirt as if to drive the point home. He approached the girl and asked her, "Are you OK?"
It took her a long time to figure out if she was. It'd turned out that she was pregnant, and the perpetrator, her ex, did not want to be a father. After the police took our statements and carted the girl off to the hospital, Obama-Man offered us all rides home.
"Just think if we hadn't been there," he said in the car.
"I could hardly get the police to stop," my friend told him.
"She had to jump in front of their car!" I added in.
Obama-Man just shook his head. "Vigilantes," Obama-man said. "We really don't have anyone but each other."
Some time before November 2 this year, Delvin Barnes went to buy a Ford Taurus and unbeknownst to him, the dealer placed a GPS device in the car because of Barnes' "poor credit." Was it discriminatory or a breech of privacy? Or was it precautionary, considering Barnes' terrible history with women, including rape, burglary, and assault? Possibly heroic, considering their decision to bug Barnes' car would ultimately be the key to authorities finding Freeland-Gaither three days later in Maryland, battered but alive.
This isn't a happy ending, but maybe a happy outcome in a storm of tragic ones. For a moment, however brief, the usual idleness against the machine left our hearts and we were all connected, equally triumphant in Freeland-Gaither's safe return. Maybe it's not our country, per se, that would weep for our disappearance but the people in it—and as long as we are willing to take our self-worth into our own hands, we can become the heroes and the miracles that we so often ask for.
Anyone with information regarding Cindy Song can contact Ferguson Township Police at (814) 237-1172.
Carol Hood is a native of Oakland, California and holds a MA in Creative and Life Writing from Goldsmiths College, University of London. Her novel in progress, The Misadventures of Tip & J.B. Turner, was nominated for the Pat Kavanagh Award for Best Manuscript; her short story "White Alien" was short-listed for Glimmer Train's Short Story Award for New Writers; and she won SAIC's small grant award for her upcoming graphic novel, American Witch. She hopes to one day appease the gods enough to make her Wonder Woman.
[Illustration by Tara Jacoby]