When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”—Fred Rogers
“Do you remember me?” came the message from Greece this week from a man I hadn’t heard from in more than 20 years. “…You were here (in Greece) for your daughters.”
And the heaviness of the days before began to gently lift.
Two weeks earlier, I’d seen the movie Searching about a kidnapped girl. (Mothers of abducted children would be wise to avoid such movies, but I gravitate toward them.) As I left the theater and turned my phone on, I read that little girl in the neighboring community of Kotzebue, Alaska had disappeared.
Over the next week, the local news reported the growing search. The family’s reaction to their missing girl. And the support that flooded in from all over the state, evidenced by food shipments for the search crew, Facebook shares, and volunteer searchers.
How excruciating it must have been. And yet, through their grief, the family expressed their gratitude daily as in this KTUU article:
“I want to thank them so much for doing the walks, like we’ve been doing here, and them getting us prayers and hope still,” Barr (the father) said. “I can’t imagine anything else, I have a loss of words of how many people around the state, as well as Lower 48, that are 100 percent behind us.”
And on September 14th, when the body of young Ashley Barr was found in a remote area and the man associated with her death arrested, again her family gave thanks to all who helped find her.
In 1995, I made my first trip to Greece from Alaska to bring home my kidnapped daughters. I was crushed when I couldn’t bring the girls home, not realizing that all the wonderful helpers I met in Greece would be critical in our eventual reunification. Like my friend Poppy and her group of young lawyer friends in her theater group.
The following year, I returned to Greece, but was stationed in a different city this time. There would be no easy resolution. Court hearings and private investigators and even police were involved. And at one point, my daughters’ father contacted my lawyers in Greece and promised I could visit the girls. And then cancelled the visit. Then he called and set up a visit last-minute, so long as I could find people to supervise the visit.
Who on earth did I know in Greece who would give up their Sunday to supervise a visit an hour’s drive away? It was sure to be emotional, unpleasant, and potentially unsafe for them.
I called on two of the Greek friends I’d made the year before, who immediately pushed their own weekend plans aside and took a long bus ride with me to a nearby village to give me the chance to see my daughters.
Days after, I was arrested in Athens when leaving with my daughters for Alaska, and these friends offered shelter, support, even legal consultation should I need it.
Eventually, I left Greece with my daughters in a hurry, losing contact with a few of the many heroes who made it possible.
And now it’s September 2018. My daughters are grown. And I get this lovely message from my old friend, who gave up law to become a pianist in Greece.
A second glance at the news showed little Ashley’s father dispensing hugs in a receiving line of friends and strangers who’d gathered at the airport.
There are no words to make such an unimaginable tragedy better. No silver lining to make it go away. But I am convinced that this family’s ability to lean in to the community support and find their helpers will propel them on the journey toward healing.
For information on preventing or addressing child kidnapping, contact 1-800-THELOST.
To aid the family of Ashley Johnson-Barr, a GoFundMe has been established.