Lauren Spierer has been missing for almost a week now. In the wee hours last Friday morning, she left a bar near her apartment in Bloomington, IN, where the 20-year-old is a student, and never arrived home.
A parent’s worst nightmare, this kind of disappearance, usually ending up unsolved or as a murder case happens all too often. (Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart, kidnap victims who lived to tell their gut-wrenching stories, are exceptions.)
This time it’s particularly hitting home for me because I knew Lauren when she was a little thing. I mean, at 4 foot 11 inches weighing 90 lbs, she remained a little thing as she was growing into a beautiful adult. Her older sister and my daughter were best friends through elementary school, and then the Spierer family moved to Westchester where their girls would be safer. If they stayed in New York City, Rebecca would have had to take the bus through a pretty unsavory area to get to the wonderful middle school she had chosen.
We saw the Spierers now and again for a few years after they moved: the girls’ bat mitzvahs, a playdate here and there. Charlene worked at a high-end Florist, owned by her husband’s cousin, right near my apartment, and although my husband, daughter and I always said Charlene might be the nicest person I knew, somehow we had a hard time getting together. That kind of thing happens, I have discovered time and time again, when people wend their way through the paths of life.
At five Lauren was an amazing chatterbox, a little more outgoing than her serious (but fun-loving) older sister, who at the age of eight was determined to become a pediatrician. One of the perks of being an editor at the now defunct Sesame Street Parents was that we could recruit our friends with little kids to take part in the “toy test.” Every year the magazine editors would examine hundreds of toys. Eventually (in the early summer, actually), we sent out boxes of goodies to lucky children. The moms and dads would record the kids’ reactions, and finally after a few weeks everyone got together for a big focus group. Then I would write up the results. (I chose Tickle Me Elmo one year, even though the laughing doll scared the hell out of the kids, because I knew it would be a winner with the parents.) The article would appear in the November issue, just in time for holiday toy buying. One year Lauren got a beautiful doll in a trunk with lots of clothes. Another year it was tons of Breyer horses and stables and other equipment.
“Say thank you,” Charlene told Lauren when I ran into them.
Lauren just smiled. A huge smile. A much better gift to me than anything I could have given her.
Since the weekend, when the Spierers and the Bloomington police went public with the search, I have been on a Twitter list, @NewsOnLauren, which provides links to press conferences, etc. There is no real news. The Chief of Police said that they’re sure she isn’t in Bloomington. I asked my Twitter followers, some with followers in the thousands, to retweet the link to original “missing” poster and information. The social media community, always generous, retweeted. I believe that the more widespread her picture, the greater chance of finding her, if she is alive. Her parents, however, have asked for more “boots on the ground.”
If you’re on Twitter, again the handle is @NewsOnLauren. There are several hashtags, #FindLauren being the one with the most information. The link to her picture is http://yfrog.com/h2c8x9j. Ryan Seacrest has tweeted it. So can you. This is the link to her poster: http://twitpic.com/5842fw. You can put it on your Facebook page. A Facebook group, Missing Lauren Spierer, is sometimes updated by one of her cousins, but mostly has become a venting ground for spurious theories and expressions of love.
My own kids are at this moment probably safe in their apartments. Have they done unsafe things? Oh, you betcha. Will they do them again? Probably. As my son approaches 28, I think his judgment improves. My daughter is naturally cautious. But still.
Remember how we all used to have to REMEMBER to buckle up our seat belts? Now it comes so naturally that I reached for a seat belt the other day when I sat in the pedicure chair. I’d like young people to adopt safety behavior that becomes so ingrained it’s reflexive. Here are some of my thoughts about what we should be teaching them.
- Always travel in groups, even if you’re walking a block. If you ask them, they say they do it. Evidently, they don’t really actually do so.
- Find an adult you can call anytime, anywhere. Most everyone I know would get up in the middle of the night if a young person we knew called to say he or she needed help.
- Carry a loud, loud whistle. Bloomington, IN unsafe? I guess so. Lauren disappeared in the space of a few blocks. Would one of the shrieking whistles been enough to scare whoever took her away? Maybe. It’s worth a try.
- Pressure bartenders not to serve minors. Yeah right. But why can’t a bouncer make sure young people leave in groups? Why can’t the bar keep check to see the whistle around a person’s neck as he or she walks out of the bar after a late night of partying?
Have any other ideas? I’d love to hear them. I’d love for people to join me in advocacy for keeping young people safe. I’d love for anyone to put this on their Facebook page or Twitter accounts. I’d love for you all to leave comments below.