Florida Today from Cocoa, Florida on March 14, 2003 · Page 20
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Florida Today from Cocoa, Florida · Page 20

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Friday, March 14, 2003
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6A FLORIDA TODAY, Friday, March 14, 2003 Statistics show parents must stay vigilant Most experts agree Elizabeth's was By Pam Harbaugh FLORIDA TODAY The afterglow from the safe return of Elizabeth Smart to her family is all about hope. Certainly, this is good news during a seemingly uninterrupted stream of bad. However, parents must continue to be realistic. Abductions will continue to happen. The latest national statistics are from 1999. They were com piled in October 2002 by the U.S. Department of Justice and show Investigation raises more questions Cops accused of ignoring vital tip Associated Press SALT LAKE CITY Police fielded more than 16,000 tips in their search for Elizabeth Smart, but it was just one from Elizabeth's younger sister that really mattered in the end. And they are accused of ignoring it for nearly five months. In October, 9-year-old Mary Katherine Smart recalled that Brian Mitchell probably was the intruder who took her older sister from their shared bed on June 5. She knew the one-time family handyman only as Emmanuel. But police were slow to flick up the ead, still con Mitchell vinced their top suspect was another handyman, Richard Ricci, who died Aug. 30 of a brain hemorrhage, insisting he had nothing to do with Elizabeth's disappearance. It wasn't until last month that police agreed to distribute a sketch of Emmanuel made by an amateur artist. The sketch, which was shown on television and published in newspapers, quickly led to Mitchell's identification by his own stepchildren, who then released photographs of him. Mitchell, who doesn't yet have a lawyer, was being held Thursday at the Salt Lake County jail, where officials said he wasn't responding to interview requests. Ed Smart sounded forgiving toward police, but gave his youngest daughter credit for cracking the case "there's no question that Mary Katherine is our hero" while pointedly withholding credit from police. "This was a public effort," he said. Asked if police blew it, he said, "I believe that some mistakes have been made, but I know that they were trying." "We learn by our mistakes," he said. "We don't have professional kidnap policemen, so we do our best." Detective Dwayne Baird said it was obvious only in hindsight that Mitchell was a top suspect. He said Mitchell was one of "a lot of areas" of the case that warranted scrutiny. "There was a lot of leads we had to follow and he was one of them," Baird said. "I'm not going to talk about regrets we can Monday morning quarterback this to death." ,i MiKmmm NATIONS HIGHEST FDIC INS BANK CD'S HERE NOW! We are the FIRST Company HIGHEST CD's in the Nation! Imitator. First American is First A irn k xt Security L F I N A N C I A I yield subject to change without notice. Call for a quote. CD 5 lvwIA accounffs) FDIC insured fo the maximum allowable bv law. Yield .Deposit amount subiect to chande without notice Jiintmum amount to ODen an account is si prior to oj ) opening acr qunt. 'APYiAnnual Percentage Yield's are based on all interest left tc lurid for the entire term. APY mav include anrninnanntRmsT added atlne mcenhnn n uomuui the account(s). Penalty for early withdrawal. Restrictions Apply. No institutional or corporate ccounte accented. NoLan offer to sell securities. Other accounts types and incentives avail-able Money warfr-;ts Certificates of Deposit, Annuities. Asset PreservaTion 203,900 children were abducted by family members and 58,200 children were abducted by non-family members. An additional 1,682,900 missing children were classified as "runawaythrownaway" episodes in 1999. A "thrownaway" child is one who is asked or told to leave home by a parent or other household adult. Although Smart was gone for nine months and returned sately, W-fi !' f --IS ' :-V-. r. - f f ' ' mi Elizabeth Smart celebrates Thursday with her parents, Ed and Lois, at their home in Utah. Smart depended on captors Smart, From 1A her uncles calling out her name but was unable to respond, her family said. On Thursday, her family and friends focused not on what could have been, but on the astounding event many were calling a miracle: Elizabeth, taken from her bed in the middle of the night, was home again, playing the harp and watching her favorite movie, "The Trouble with Angels." "Elizabeth is happy, she is well, and we are so happy to have her back in our arms," said her beaming father, Ed Smart. Ed Smart said he had not pressed his daughter for details of her captivity. "What is going to come out is going to come out," he said. "I don't have it in me to try and make this harder for her than it is." Asked how she had changed, he said she had returned home "really Reclaim Roof's Beauty Removes harmful roof mold Prevents roof mold re-growth Locks granules to the shingle Adds years to your roof Dur-A-Shield FREE Brochure & Estimates The Sunshine Line 1-888-533-7652 URED Ask how you can receive 5.50 on your money. Jumbos 6.50 in Brevard County to offer the We are the ORIGINAL not the 1 in Service. 1 1 i ktos; amiwiB an ni aiama AHuprtmPd unusual case experts said this is rarely the case. Best results happen when the child is recovered within three hours of the abduction. In hopes of finding abducted children more quickly, Florida, along with 37 other states, has adopted "Amber Alert." Based on the weather advisory network, Amber Alert uses highway signs, radio and television announcements as a quick advisory to law enforcement and communities to actively look for a suspect in a child abduction. It was created m a young woman. Dressed in a wig, veil and sunglasses, Elizabeth told the police officers who picked her up with Mitchell and his wife, Barzee, that her name was Augustine. Police questioned her aggressively about her identity, Officer Bill O'Neal said. He said she became agitated when officers asked her to remove her wig and sunglasses, and told them she recently had eye surgery. "We took her aside ... she kind of just blurted out, T know who you think I am. You guys think I'm that Elizabeth Smart girl who ran away,' " O'Neal said. "Her heart was beating so hard you could see it through her chest," he added. The group was taken to the Sandy police station in handcuffs. Police said Elizabeth never asked about her family. Elizabeth was discovered in suburban Sandy when two couples called police after spotting Mitch yjfXFIRST BREVARD I REFIMMCE MOW 757-7367 Melbourne MM 0ntheWeb For more on the case, visit Florida Today's Web site at: www.floridatoday.com For more from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, visit: www.missingkids.com memory of Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old who was abducted and murdered in Texas. Florida was the second state to adopt the plan, which went into effect in August 2000. It has been ell walking down the street, recognizing him from a sketch circulated by the Smart family. He and Barzee remained jailed Thursday on suspicion of aggravated kidnapping. For much of the time she was gone, it appears Elizabeth was hiding in plain sight, sometimes swathed in robes and veils. She may also have spent time in an apartment a block from a Salt ' Lake City police station, and attended a party in the company of her apparent abductors. Daniel Trotta, who says he unknowingly sheltered Elizabeth and the drifter couple in a Salt Lake City apartment for several days last fall, claims the girl never expressed fear and had opportunities to escape or at least call police. Police have refused to confirm Trotta's account. A Smart family spokesman said Elizabeth never had a chance to slip away because she was always with Mitchell and Barzee. used 41 times. Brevard County law enforcement agencies have used it five times. It was most recently used when Giovanni and Donna Conigliaro allegedly abducted their own children from a Cocoa Beach foster home last week. Despite the promise of Amber Alert, wise parents don't rely solely on the government to keep their child safe, said Joan Heller, spokesperson for the Brevard County Sheriffs Office. "There's a lot of information available out there," she said. . "Most police departments have crime prevention programs that Decades later, pain remains for families of missing teenagers Pain, From 1A Tami Lynn Leppert of Rockledge vanished after being dropped off by a friend at the "Glass Bank" in Cocoa Beach. Although the trails remain cold, the Cocoa Beach Police Department still regards them as open cases, said Lt. Bud Ayers of the criminal investigation division. Leads continue to trickle in, mainly to the Leppert file, thanks largely to an "Unsolved Mysteries" show that premiered in 1992 and continues to air in syndication. All have been dead ends. More awareness The world's a different place than it was back then," says Ayers, an 18-year law enforcement veteran. "There wasn't the awareness that we have today. I'm not even sure they had the term sexual predator in those days." All that changed in the years following the kidnapping and murder of 6-year-old Adam Walsh in 1981. The boy's father, John Walsh, led a movement that resulted in a nationwide missing-children database, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the milk-carton ID campaign, and "America's Most Wanted," one of law enforcement's most useful television resources. In Dallas, Leppert's stepfather, Richard Leppert, couldn't help but think about his own daughter when the Smarts received their good news on Wednesday. It also magnified his loss. "I loved Tami so much," Leppert says. "She was my baby. I haven't really held out any hope for her for a long time now. But I took out the pictures I have." Leppert's ex-wife, Linda Curtis, went to her grave in 1995 without a resolution. A talent agent, she had groomed Tami to be a model and an actress, and the teen had made cameo appearances in films such as "Spring Break" and "Scarface." From her deathbed in an Orlando hospital, Curtis made a DIRECTV SYSTEM INSTALLED FIRSTTIME SUBSCRIBERS ONLY SUNShThE 1 CALL FOR DETAILS NETWORK L.dCI yliV DIRECTV. FEEL THE JOY 321-726-9292 "T Satellite" I Home Theater I Morehouse I Winter Home Course of Lorie $36.00 after 11:00 am $40.oo 7 to 11:00 am All Rates tax $125.00 vrr, I I Iff u II f TTNvrCS:!: A I J f ( . J , Vj Mon.-Sat I0am-7pm i: I J53' Y Ky I6I6S. Babcock St. - :ji 5 ,"CmEAT Mark?? -y Melbourne 725-0400 " :i I I V"! two and 6H5 N. Wickham Ri ii locations Melbourne 752-0400 :i !?U"-""JJL"JJ Maaaaa a a a a aaaa.. ......... . PP? ! deal with child safety." Heller said the Sheriffs office has child safety programs they can present at places such as scout troops, PTAs, faith based groups and child care centers. "We do get regular requests for all those," she said. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is an excellent resource with exhaustive information detailing data and tips to keep children safe. The agency's Web site reports report that teenagers, especially girls 12 to 19 years old, are the "most victimized segment of the population in the United States." final plea through Florida Today for closure as she succumbed to kidney and liver failure at age 54. "I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me, but if that's what it takes to get the right person to come forward, that's OK," she said. In Cocoa Beach, Keith Fleming's father Donald is under hospice care for cancer. Mother Maria Fleming says the endless uncertainty has "broken his heart." Hanging onto their 1977 phone number and address at least partially in hopes that their son may still return, the Flemings say the most shattering lead occurred one Monday evening some six years ago. That's when, Maria Fleming says, police jumped the gun and said Keith had been located in Arkansas. "My son Gerald was on the first plane out Tuesday morning," she says. But Gerald eliminated the subject immediately after getting a good look at him, and the fingerprints didn't match. The suspect, she says, had a long criminal record and a false identity borrowed from a missing-child milk carton profile. High praise Brother Jeff Fleming, however, gives the local cops high marks for thoroughness. He says he accompanied a detective on a bone hunt to one of Keith's favorite surfing spots called the Shark Pit, after a lead from a psychic fit his green truck like a glove. "I still get chills thinking about it," he says. Jeff Fleming adds it's strange to hear from friends as far away as North Carolina and New Jersey who've seen Keith's picture on fliers or milk cartons. But Maria Fleming, who refers to Keith in the present tense, refuses to remove his name from the national database. "Keith," she says, "will be 40 in September." 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