I thought that if I found out that the bone discovered last summer was not Michaela’s that it would be difficult. I thought that I would feel tired, like I was picking up a heavy load I had set aside for a moment, and setting back out on a long, hard journey. But it hasn’t been that way at all. Compared to the death watch of the last few months, waiting for the tests on the bone to be completed, I feel energized. Those occasional leads that have come along which would lead to an answer, the answer being that Michaela is no longer alive, always offer a kind of a hypnotic draw. They tempt me with rest, and I think yes let this be it, let me have an answer, let this torturous searching and not knowing end. I comfort myself with the thought that if this is the truth, that at least Michaela is not suffering now, today, that she is at peace, and that therefore I can be at peace. And I think, let this at least be over. Sometimes, I just can’t figure out how I feel.
But the truth of my feelings becomes obvious in the relief that is always the overriding reaction when I find out that they have not found Michaela to be dead. Somewhere, deep inside, a little tiny seed of elation explodes into a corkscrew of a sprout that winds its way up through my heart until it blossoms, and I am able to recognize it for what it is. This is love. This is hope. For what, it doesn’t matter. In my mind I know that the hope of Michaela being alive carries its own dreadful possibilities. But my stubborn, stubborn heart just does not want to give my daughter up.
So those of you who have been reading this blog for awhile have probably recognized the fact that I am fully willing to throw myself off cliffs and into deep waters over various leads. I fully admit to this. I will also fully admit to the fact that this is true of a number of different leads, each of which makes perfect sense and seems to be true to me. And who knows how many other leads I have not heard of? As of right now, Herzog has not been ruled out as a suspect, and I will continue to support whatever may be done to get to the bottom of that investigation. I know that this is in good hands, that there are a lot of intimately involved and determined people working on this, and I will continue to support them fully, whether it eventually involves Michaela or whether it doesn’t.
However, what I am drawn back to is the human trafficking. I try to be so careful with information that I release on this blog, try not to compromise the investigation in any way. There are probably a lot of things I could say that I don’t out of an abundance of caution. My readers are probably aware of the e-mails I got just about a year ago telling me that Michaela is in the UAE. And there have been things that have happened since then that have made me believe that this is entirely and absolutely possible, which I don’t really want to go into. But the possibility of human trafficking arose in Michaela’s case long before this lead. This past week I did an interview for a program on human trafficking, and before I did that I asked my detective if it was okay to discuss that lead publicly, and he said it was. So I will.
There was a man in the 1980’s who was involved in trafficking of child pornography between the United States and Mexico. His name was Richard Helwig. In March 1989 he was stopped at the border as he was returning from a trip to Mexico, and he was discovered to have child pornography in his vehicle, along with cut-outs of articles about Michaela and Amber Swartz, who had gone missing here in the Bay Area just a few months before Michaela. An investigation was carried out by ICE or CBP or whatever incarnation of immigration authorities were in charge at that time. Helwig had a girlfriend in Mexico who had two daughters who were both deaf. Authorities interviewed the girlfriend, who possessed earrings like the ones Michaela was wearing. She said Helwig had given them to her, but later changed her story and said that she got them from the flea market. Not impossible, as those earrings were as common as dust back in those days. She also said that Helwig had given her a tee-shirt like the one Michaela had been wearing, although this shirt was apparently not turned up in a search.
The two daughters were also interviewed, separately, and each girl independently verified that both Michaela and Amber had been there, in Mexico. (Note that Amber’s case was closed by the Pinole Police Department, based on a confession by Curtis Dean Anderson. However, there was no evidence to back up Anderson’s confession and there is every possibility that he had ulterior motives. There are many for whom Amber’s case is far from closed.) Helwig went to prison, where he died of AIDS. In prison, even on his death bed, he continued to be questioned by authorities about Michaela’s case. They tried to get information, to get a confession. Helwig refused to talk, would neither admit nor deny any knowledge of or involvement with Michaela’s kidnapping.
And so today this remains yet another unanswered question. This is just one example, by the way, of the leads that have not been released to the public. Many have set their sites on Herzog or Garrido because of all the publicity, but that is because they have not heard about Helwig, or others.
This is a very strong lead by anybody’s standards. And the importance of this lead is that if it is true then it establishes that Michaela was not kidnapped by an individual sociopath for his own sick purposes. It would instead establish that she was kidnapped to be used by an organized group, for human trafficking purposes. And although this story begins in Mexico, it does not have to end there. If Michaela was taken by a traffickers in children and child pornography to Mexico, it is entirely possible that she ended up in the UAE. She could be anywhere in the big wide world, of course, but there have been a few indications that it could well be the UAE.
The frustrating thing continues to be that there is so little that can be done to follow up on something like this. The only thing I have been able to come up with is to yell and cry and carry on. People have suggested that I go to the UAE and look for her, or that I go through photos of all these girls on websites from the UAE. People, that is not going to work. The UAE is a large place. I am not going to wander in there and bump into Michaela at the market. I am certainly not going to infiltrate the human trafficking rings. I do know people whose children have been taken by their fathers to the Persian Gulf countries and who have not been able to get them out even though they know where they are and who they are with, so please don’t try to tell me that there is anything effective that I could do here. If I knew for sure where she was, maybe, but I don’t even know she is in the country! And as for looking through all those photos, I have done things like that in the past, with other situations. Most of those girls in those photos probably don’t even look like themselves, and I really don’t know what Michaela would look like now. It is an exercise in futility and grief.
I would really like to be able to get Michaela’s story in the media in the Persian Gulf, but so far I haven’t found a way to do that. I have asked people with contacts in the Persian Gulf, and I have asked media people from the United States. Haven’t been able to put the two together — Persian Gulf + Media. I’m just not honestly sure that it would be possible. I know that it is against the law to distribute “Missing” flyers, so perhaps it is possible that stories about missing girls cannot be aired either.
So for now, I will continue to take whatever opportunities come my way to get Michaela’s story out there … and one of my primary certain ways is through this blog. I know that I have an international audience out there. I ask you to please, please, please help to try to spread the word. If everybody who reads this blog asks their friends in other countries to read it, and to forward it to people they know in other countries, perhaps it will find its way to where it should be, to where it will help.
And who knows? Perhaps it has already reached into that place. Perhaps Michaela has read it, is reading it right now. If so, my only purpose here can be to continue to send you love and support. Someone left a comment on another blog entry yesterday asking if it wouldn’t be more difficult for me if Michaela contacted me and let me know that she was out there, that she was reading my blog, wouldn’t I be upset to know that she was choosing not to come home? As I said in my birthday message to Michaela, this is something I have struggled with, but in the end the fact is this … I am Michaela’s mother. My place in life is to love her and support her. I am here to help her, to make her feel better, and not to feel worse. In my slow as molasses way I have come to recognize that there may be some compelling reasons that she could be out there and unwilling or afraid to come home. It is not my place to be upset or offended by that. It is not my place to make her feel guilty or responsible for my feelings. She is not responsible for my feelings in any way. She is not responsible for the sorrow or grief or pain of these years of separation. The only person or persons responsible for that are the ones responsible for her kidnapping.
Michaela, if you were to contact me, if you were to give me certain information so that I know you are Michaela — like our family code word, or several memories that nobody else would know about — I would respect your situation. As I said in my previous blog, maybe you have children and want to protect them. Heaven knows that as much as I loved my mother, I would not have left or endangered my children in order to make my mother feel better. And my mother would never have asked me to, and would never have made me feel guilty for it.
If you are out there, Michaela, you can trust me. You can trust me to love you, to never harm you. You can trust me to not try to find you if you ask me not to. What would change if you contacted me? It would give me a measure of peace. If I found you, even if it was only vague and at a distance, I would be able to stop this frantic searching here there and everywhere. I would not have to hold my breath in these death watches. The nature and character of my letters to you on this blog would change, because I would know I was actually writing to you. The begging for you to contact me would stop. We could have a relationship, you and I, and even if it was like prisoners in adjoining cells, whispering to each other in the dark, we could share our hearts, share our love. I will not publish your messages if you ask me not to. You can leave them as anonymous comments on this blog, or you could email me if you like, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You remember the book we used to read, Michaela? “I love you forever … I like you for always … As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.” That’s a promise, my sweet girl, no matter what. I love you, I love you, I love you. I want only to bring you comfort, to make things better, and not to make things worse.