I have not actually spent 23 years believing Michaela is still alive. For a long time I was convinced that if she was actually alive, she would have found some way to contact me. For a long time I was also convinced that it would probably actually be better for her if she was not alive, because that would mean that her suffering, her fear and terror, her sadness and loneliness, would have ended and she would have spent all these years in a better place where she would be at peace. You know, it’s never really been about MY feelings. It’s never been about what I want. What has devastated me about my daughter being kidnapped is not that I have missed her, but that SHE has suffered.
Then as the years passed, various things happened and I began to have a new understanding of what might have happened, what might be possible. There were kids who had been kidnapped, who had been gone for various lengths of time, who had been found and had returned to their families. Steven Stayner had been found before Michaela was kidnapped, after having been kidnapped for seven years. For those who refer to a “fairytale” ending, Steven’s story shows us the real nature of hope, that we hope and have faith no matter what, because it wasn’t really a fairy tale for him even after he came home, and he ended up dying young in a motorcycle accident. But this young man wrote me a letter, which I still have around here somewhere, and this is what he told me about Michaela … “never give up.”
I didn’t always heed his words. I did give up, for awhile. But then there were a few other kids who were found. Elizabeth Smart was found. She’d been missing for only nine months, but if someone hadn’t found her she’d have likely stayed missing. She is an extremely intelligent and beautiful young woman, has become the most gracious spokesperson for missing children’s causes, and yet she stayed with her captors, unable to grasp those opportunities for freedom because they had her convinced she couldn’t. Shawn Hornbeck was found, and gave perhaps the first glimpse into just how and why these kids could stay missing, why they would not contact their families, go home. Shawn’s parents were perhaps the first parents of a missing child who thought to write letters to him on their website. And Shawn actually read those letters! He not only read them, he responded to them anonymously, and in his responses he suggested that perhaps they wouldn’t want their son back if they knew what he had done, what had been done to him. This was the first time I understood that these kids can become so ashamed of the lives they have been forced to live, they think that their families wouldn’t want them anymore. And I began to first think that perhaps Michaela could still be alive and not have contacted me, that however strong and intelligent I knew her to be, she was just a child, and her spirit could have been broken, especially given the extended time period she’d been gone. She could have been lied to, could have been convinced that those lies were truth.
Then, of course, Jaycee was found. She’d been missing for seventeen years!!! Jaycee’s case changed the paradigm. I remember even the morning that the news broke that she’d been found, I called a former reporter who’d covered Michaela’s case, now retired from reporting and living in Lake Tahoe, near Jaycee’s home town. He called some contacts of his and called me back, and said that no, they are still convinced that Jaycee is dead and her stepdad killed her. But that was not true. She was alive.
And I had to believe, for Michaela’s sake, that she could still be alive. You know what, people, that is not an easy thing to do. It is really so, so much easier to say, “I think she’s probably not alive, and she’s probably in a better place.” That way you can grieve, get over it, get on with life. Holding onto hope is WORK, hard, backbreaking, spirit killing WORK. I don’t think I would have been able to do it without the love and help of so many others, from my family and friends to those people who read my blog and facebook pages. Honestly, there were many times I wanted to just set that hope down somewhere and walk away from it, and whenever I did, someone would come along, without even knowing, and say something along the lines of, “Don’t ever give up, Sharon. You have to keep believing for your daughter.” And I’d actually feel irritated by it sometimes! I’d want to say, “No, I can’t, I’m tired, I’m broken, I just can’t keep doing this, just leave me alone!” But I didn’t. I’d pick up that big fat lead balloon of hope and I’d hoist it up on my shoulders once again, and I’d keep trudging on, keep looking for my daughter, keep trying to reach out for her. And you know what? It’s worth it. It’s worth all the hard work and grief, because if she is still alive out there somewhere, she NEEDS me to hold onto her, she needs me to keep focusing that hope and love on her. And not me only, but all you friends and family members who continue to do that also!
If she is not alive and we keep on believing, keep on hoping, keep on searching, it isn’t going to hurt a doggone person, except for perhaps me. It won’t hurt Michaela. And even though someone made a comment on the age progression blog that she hoped my kids had turned out healthy even though they had a a mother like me, it is absolutely NOT going to hurt my family for me to continue to focus all this love and hope on Michaela. This is what my family learns from this — they learn that whatever may come, I will always love them, that if ever they need help, I will always be looking for a way to give it to them. I used to tell Michaela, “If ever you are sad or lonely and I’m not there, just touch your heart and you will find me there.” Well, my other kids know this, because they have seen it with Michaela, and they know it is true for them as well. They know love is forever. Love never gives up.
Recently this lead has come up about Herzog and all those bones found buried in wells on his property. Herzog has a resemblance to our composite, and his buddy Shermantine made a reference to that. And for some reason, people started wanting me to say that I thought Herzog had killed Michaela. People wanted me to say that I thought her bones would be found among those in the wells. People wanted me to long for this to be the answer at long last. But you know what? I didn’t feel that. And the facts didn’t make it likely to be true. First of all, Herzog’s victims were all adults. Michaela didn’t fit the profile. Second, Shermantine, the guy who was pointing to where the bones were, never said that he knew anything about where Michaela was, just commented that Herzog looked like our composite. See, I knew that because I had actually read those letters instead of just watching the news. I also knew that Shermantine had later specifically reiterated that he didn’t know anything about Michaela’s case. And when you get right down to it, Herzog lacked one marked identifying feature that the eyewitness commented on in Michaela’s kidnapper, and that was severe acne, which looked almost like boils on his face. Even in Herzog’s older photos, his skin looked pretty clear — certainly didn’t look like he had boils on his face.
I had the facts and I had the intuition, and I was positive that it wasn’t Herzog, and I honestly didn’t think that finding my daughters “remains” was considered “hopeful,” and for some reason there were people who just insisted on being unhappy about my resolve that Michaela’s remains were not likely to be found in the well.
Then I did get some leads that were hopeful, and I posted those for the express purpose of asking for help from the people who read my blog, who are from all over the world (even the UAE), and what is the first comment I get? It’s from someone who has to say that he’s sure this lead is nothing, that someone is obviously playing me by pretending that they are different people with e-mail addresses in Russia and yada yada. Well, it makes no sense to me that someone would go to that kind of trouble to “play me” with a lead about Michaela. There is no reason for it, and in 23 years I honestly haven’t had the experience of people being either that invested or that cruel to do such a thing. And again, there are facts I knew that the reader didn’t, and again, there are intuitions I have, which I even mentioned in the blog, but let’s just forget all of that, right?
I am really disturbed by the kind of comments I have been receiving here lately. My mother always quoted “what Thumper says,” which is “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.” And if the wisdom of Disney isn’t enough for you, let’s go with Hippocrates, “First, do no harm.” Please feel free to sit in your chair and believe whatever you want to believe, but please don’t feel a need to burden me with it. I have quite enough burdens already, thank you. And more to the point, do not take it upon yourself to do anything, anything at all, that could in any way damage Michaela’s cause or her case, and anytime you pooh pooh the likelihood of her being alive or of a lead (or leads) having any meaning, you are doing that, because of the ever so slight possibility that you could dissuade some one person somewhere from reposting the information or helping in whatever way they could. “Oh, they said Michaela is in the UAE, and I did see a girl there who looked like she could have been Michaela, but I’m not sure I want to get involved, and this guy here said oh probably that’s just someone playing you, and he’s probably right, so I won’t call this information in.”
You know, I’m actually a very logical person, and I’m also a very intelligent person. I am a paralegal, and it is my job to analyze situations and cases, to assemble evidence, and draw a conclusion. I don’t set aside this ability when it comes to my daughter’s case. I don’t often give out information about the case or leads, and if I do give out information, if I do say something about the case, you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s been thought out well. You can also remember that I know lots and lots and lots about the case. I know about the lead I’m telling you and I know about many other leads, including about six which are considered the “primary” suspects or scenarios still under investigation. So I am far more aware than you are of the alternative realities, and also of the way other alternative realities may fit into the one I choose to share for whatever reason. So the bottom line is that whatever your own thoughts or agenda may be, you should never fail to respect my words, and actually read all of my words. Most often when I get these responses, it’s a case of someone having taken a single aspect of something I’ve said and picked that apart, rather than actually considering the big picture.
I do not know whether Michaela is alive or not. But if she is, she needs me, and she needs you to help by continuing to share my words to her with as many people as you can, as far and wide as you can, so that perhaps she will see them one day. To all of you who continue to do that, I thank you. To all of you who have encouraged me and helped me to keep this burden of hope aloft, you have my undying gratitude. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
And to Michaela, wherever you are, I love you forever, in every way, in every world.