When my sister fell on her bike while riding over the train tracks at the other end of our street, our friend Dolores thought she was being kidnapped.
I guess Mere, my sister, must have screamed or yelled or something from just out of view, down in the dip of the road where the trains used to run, back before the town removed the tracks and made a bike path.
We used to like to swoop down that hill on our Schwinns and bump over raised lines of metal, then pedal furiously up the other hill before turning around and going down again.
The trains didn’t run any more, not when we were kids, but the tracks were cool and even though we weren’t supposed to, we like to play near them. Just because they were there. And because we were kids.
A block or two away, there was a bridge on Woodruff Avenue that went over those same tracks. There was space on the bridge for the cars, and along one side, a little fenced-off part for pedestrians. It wasn’t much of a bridge. But still. It was a bridge. Right in our little neighborhood. And that was pretty cool.
Anyway, it turned out my sister wasn’t being kidnapped at all – she’d fallen and scraped up her knee and her elbow. She might even still have the scars – I’ll have to ask her. She was probably crying (I don’t remember, but I’m sure it hurt), and she limped home and Mom probably cleaned her up and may have even (horrors) put merthiolate on the wounds. Do you remember that stuff? It was orange, and it stung horribly. It was worse than whatever cut or scrape you started out with. Something to be avoided if you could manage to.
We didn’t used to think about what became known as stranger danger. We rode our bikes all over the place and our only concern was that we complete wheelies successfully over the bumps in the street where tree roots pushed up the asphalt. Kidnapping wasn’t on our list of worries. We worried more about (or we probably didn’t worry so much as try to avoid) bee stings and splinters and wounds that required merthiolate, and our mothers worried about us getting hit by cars that went too fast on these small, residential streets where we lived. Plenty of pets died because of these cars – our moms really didn’t want us ending up like the neighborhood cats and dogs.
But when I was almost ten and my sister was seven, we learned about kidnapping.
That’s how old we were when a little five-year-old boy named Jason disappeared in mid-May. He lived in Peace Dale, right next to Wakefield, where I grew up. Both Peace Dale and Wakefield are part of South Kingstown, in Rhode Island. A tourist town. Near the beaches and the University of Rhode Island.
A nice place to raise a family.
And then Jason disappeared that spring. Vanished. On his mother’s birthday. Hundreds of people searched for him, but there was no trace, no clue, no indication of what had happened to this little blond boy.
I remember my sister and my best friend and I doing our own searching, such as it was. It probably consisted of exploring the attic of my family’s barn/garage. Which was always kept locked, but, you know, we thought maybe we’d find him up there anyway.
We became detectives. We wanted to solve the mystery.
I think the absolute horror of this event was too big for us to grasp, in some ways, so, to armor ourselves, we played sleuth. I was also deeply into the Trixie Belden series at the time, so I considered myself quite knowledgeable about detective work.
I think, maybe, we thought if we could find Jason, our world would go back to being safe, and our parents wouldn’t worry about us as much.
We didn’t find Jason, of course.
No one did.
Not until seven years later.
I was in high school. I had other worries by then. Grades, social awkwardness, thoughts of college, SATs, hair, clothes, my innate inability to dress cool. All the normal high school geek stuff.
And then the younger brother of the girl who sat in front of me in (very boring) U.S. History was almost killed.
It was April. He’d been delivering papers, and this guy invited him into his house, got him drunk, and the kid passed out. When he came to, the older guy was trying to strangle him. The kid somehow managed to get away. He told his father, his father notified the police, and pretty soon we found out – seven years later – that this guy who’d nearly strangled a kid was the one who had taken Jason all those years ago.
And he’d killed Jason. The little blond five-year-old boy. Killed him right away and hid the body. For years.
I remember the story filling the local paper.
And the disbelief.
It happened right up the street. The guy – who was 16 at the time – lived right up the street from the little boy he killed. He and his father helped with the search. And due to a horrible lapse in judgment, their house was never searched, though all the other houses in the area were.
Sixteen. Same age I was when the second boy was nearly killed.
Now the killer was 23.
He went to trial. And was sentenced to 40 years – the result of a plea bargain. The reasoning was to spare the family details from the killer’s journals about the little boy’s death. Horrifying details.
And so the journals were sealed, the killer got 40 years and was shipped out of state to another prison.
And now, just recently, we’ve found out he’s due to be released.
Twelve years early.
For good behavior.
And we are horrified and outraged.
He should not be let out.
Some might say he’s served his time.
But I say no, he hasn’t.
He should never get out.
There is not enough time in all eternity for him to make up for what he did. To make up for the hell that little boy’s family has gone through all these years and now, because of this horrible “good behavior” crap, is going through again. Still. More.
He – his name is Michael – maybe you’ve read the name in the news lately – should never get out.
I don’t believe some people can change. And I don’t care if he has served his official time. I don’t believe children will be safe if he is released.
Of course he behaved well in prison. He was locked up. Away from the rest of the world. Away from innocent, unsuspecting children.
He didn’t have the opportunity to behave badly while he was locked up. It’s easy to be good when all temptation is removed.
But that will change if he is let out.
I sure as hell don’t want him moving into my neighborhood. Or anyone else’s neighborhood, for that matter.
I’m a mother now. Of two young children.
We live in a nice, family-friendly neighborhood.
But still. I don’t like it when my son rides his bike beyond our driveway. We have taught him to be careful, not to talk to strangers, not to ride anywhere other than certain specified streets.
I know I can’t hold his hand forever.
When he goes off to ride bikes with his friend across the street, and they are out of my sight, I worry. I try to keep the worry contained in a box in my heart, but it pushes on the sides and sometimes bursts out.
I don’t want to be a nervous nellie of a mother, I don’t want to smother my children. I don’t want them to be sheltered and naive.
I just want them to be safe.
Because I know what can happen.
And that it can happen anywhere, to anyone, no matter how pretty the white picket fences are, or how fragrant the flowers.