Webmaster’s note: This wonderful article from Ms. Selmin was submitted in plenty of time to be posted for the May 25 recognition days she cites below. The webmaster pulled a Rip van Winkle and snoozed right on through May, June, July. But, there are no wrong days become more aware of an international children’s issue. So, with profuse apologies for the delay, here is a wonderfully informative article. Feel free to share you own experiences in the comments. And please, when you talk to your children make sure they understand what you mean by “strangers.” Many children believe that word does not apply to anyone with a smiling, friendly face.
We are going to commemorate both National Missing Children’s Day and International Missing Children’s Day on May 25. Before I share my own experience with a close encounter to have the same fate with these children, I would like to give a brief account of how these days were established.
High profile child abduction cases shocked people in the USA between 1979 and 1981. On May 25, 1979, 6-year- old Etan Patz disappeared on his way to school in New York City. His father, a professional photographer, distributed Etan’s black and white pictures all over and placed them also on milk cartons in the hope of finding his son. Thus, he created awareness for child abductions nationally and internationally. Etan’s body has never been recovered.
On July 27, 1981, almost 7-year- old Adam Walsh was left at the video games section of a Hollywood, Florida, Sears department store while his mom stopped to check out some lamps not too far from him. When she returned, Adam was gone due to a scuffle between older boys which resulted in a security guard’s demand for the boys to leave the store if their parents were not with them. The security guard assumed Adam was with the older boys. Unfortunately, perhaps, Adam was too shy to speak out that he was not with these older boys and that his mom was at the store. On August 10, 1981, Adam’s severed head was found in a canal approximately 130 miles away. The rest of his body was never recovered.
There were no regional and/or national response systems to help with the searches. In both cases, the fathers were initially prime suspects. John Walsh, Adam’s father, said “The abduction of a child is a tragedy. No one can fully understand or appreciate what a parent goes through at such a time, unless they have faced a similar tragedy…” John Walsh became the host of the television program America’s Most Wanted and an advocate for victims of horrendous crimes.
The Missing Children Movement, the milk-carton campaigns of the mid 1980s, and a new legislation followed the aforementioned and other tragic events. In 1983 President Ronald Reagan proclaimed May 25th National Missing Children’s Day to be observed at the anniversary of Etan’s disappearance. Similar events in other countries proved that this was not specifically an American problem. International Missing Children’s Day was first observed on May 25, 2001.
To come to my own story, I was seven and a half years old, and in third grade. It was a Saturday. We had school only for a half day on Saturdays. Most of the students had already gone home, but I was taking my time crossing the cobblestone street that divided our elementary school from the start of my neighborhood. Once I was on the other side of the street, I stayed on the payment hopping and kicking stones. While I was having fun, I was suddenly startled by a man’s feet in dark color leather shoes with their backs crushed down by his weight in front of me. As my eyes moved from his shoes to his black loose pants, tucked in shirt which was open down his chest, and a colorful cloth belt wrapped around his waist, he announced that he was my maternal uncle. He stated that he just arrived in the city and didn’t have time to get a present for my mom. He wanted me to take him to a confectioner’s store to select her favorite candies. I was not only startled, but also frightened now. From the uncles I met in real life and from the pictures that I had seen of others, he didn’t look like anyone who could be my maternal uncle. I mumbled some things, turned around, and ran in the opposite direction as fast as I could. I was running to the principal’s house. His house was a little above the school and on the same side that I was running on. Only a few cars were passing in the street and some people were walking. When I arrived at his house, I pounded on the door. His wife looked from the wood lattice covered window, which was projecting to the street on the second floor, and she asked what the matter was. Again I mumbled some things. She said that she was coming down to open the door. At that moment I was able to turn around to see if the stranger was following me. I didn’t see anyone that looked like him. As she opened the door and let me into the court yard, I saw a glass of water in her hand. She poured some into her hand and applied it to my face and forehead and let me drink the rest. I couldn’t tell her what had happened, only that I came to see the principle. The stranger’s yelling after me “It’s a secret, it’s a surprise, etc.!!!” were still echoing in my ears.
She, one of the most kind ladies I have met in my life, invited me to go upstairs and wait there. She was expecting him for lunch any minute and she invited me to stay for lunch. I said that I’d wait for him down in the courtyard and that my mom would be extremely angry with me if I were to be too late. Some time passed and he didn’t come. It was her opinion that he was tied down at school and I could tell her anything. Meanwhile, she went upstairs and came down with some sweets wrapped in paper. I thanked her for her kindness and expressed my hope of seeing the principal on the way home. I couldn’t talk about it, but I was feeling much better. Once I was on the street I looked carefully to see if the stranger was around; I also searched with quick and careful glances if the principal, Ubeyd Soylemezoglu, would appear so I can tell him what had happened. When I came to the corner where I had to make a right turn to enter the street to my home, I carefully surveyed to see if the stranger was anywhere on the street. The street looked completely empty. Then I ran as fast as I could and pounded on our door. My brother who was three years older than me opened the door and told me our mom was angry with me for being so late. She was urging him to go and look for me. I quickly moved to the kitchen, and gave the small package of sweets to my mom by saying the principal’s wife sent it to her. I was grateful that she didn’t ask why I went there, but she inquired about why I didn’t tell my brother that I was going there so he could have brought the news of my whereabouts. I spent the whole weekend in anxiety, and didn’t go out for any reason.
On Monday, I heard that the principal was looking for me and I needed to go and see him at his office. Once I was in his office, I felt as if all of my anxieties disappeared, and I was in peace. He was not only kind, but also had tremendous wisdom. I told him what had happened and he told me that I did the right thing and inquired about if I told it to my family. When I said ‘no’, he inquired further ‘why’. I remember saying that my mom would say it was my fault because I didn’t come straight home like the other children. He mentioned that he would speak with my mom without telling her what I told him. After this incident, Ubeyd bey, the principal of our school, began talking about children’s safety, what children should be aware of, what they could do if anything happened to them, and parents’ responsibilities. He shared these insights and warnings in our classes, on Monday mornings after the Flag ceremonies, and even during parent-teacher meetings, without ever mentioning my name.
He loved children. His eyes used to shine when he was talking to students; I don’t ever remember him spanking a student even though we were living in a society where spanking was considered an important part of disciplining children. He made most of us feel that we were the future of our country.
Our children are the future of our countries. Let us talk to them and with them. Let us share our experiences with them in any form, verbal and/or written. Please reach out to children and other adults on May 25 to commemorate this day with them.