Friday, March 14, 2003

Erica's family finds joy, hope in Smart case

Kettering girl still missing after four years

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Greg Baker, elated by the return of Elizabeth Smart, has been waiting four years for information about his daughter Erica.
(Associated Press photo)
| ZOOM |
KETTERING, Ohio - When Greg Baker arrived home from work, walked through the door and spotted Wednesday's TV news about Elizabeth Smart being found alive in Salt Lake City after nine months, "I gave a big `Yahoo!' - out loud.

"I was thinking: `The torture for them is over; their nightmare has ended - and it ended with a happy ending.'"

He added Thursday: "I'm very saddened that we can't say that about my daughter. Every single day, it's torture."

Baker's daughter, Erica, vanished Feb. 7, 1999, as she walked her dog a few blocks from her suburban Dayton home. Despite exhaustive searches and nationwide publicity, no trace of her has been found.

Erica's mother, Misty Baker, and grandmother, Pam Schmidt, have continued their quest to help parents and family members of other missing children.

Among 797,500 children reported missing in 1999, 3 percent were victims of "nonfamily abductions" - a stranger or other nonrelative took the child for at least an hour.

That term includes the cases of Erica Baker, who was 9 when she disappeared from Kettering, Ohio, in 1999, as well as the recent case of Elizabeth Smart, now 15, of Salt Lake City.

Among 58,200 nonfamily abductions, more than 90 percent were solved within 24 hours, with the child found alive within 50 miles of home.

"Stereotypical kidnappings" - which involve transporting the child more than 50 miles by a stranger or slight acquaintance, asking for ransom or intended to keep the child permanently or kill him -- are more likely to end in violence.

Among 115 stereotypical kidnappings, 40 percent of the children were killed and 32 percent were found alive but injured.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice 1999 report

Neither woman could be reached Thursday because they were en route to Alexandria, Va., where the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children will be the site of a three-day training session that begins today. The workshops will prepare volunteers to work for Team HOPE (Help Offering Parents Empowerment), a support organization for families with missing children.

"We help them to survive and we become their friends," said Abby Potash, the group's coordinator. (See for more information.)

Potash said Misty Baker was overjoyed when she heard the news about 15-year-old Elizabeth - a case that illustrates how important it is to "keep the pictures (of missing kids) out there," Potash said.

Hope seems to dim the longer a child is missing - especially after years have passed, as in Erica's case, Potash acknowledged.

But the happy ending for Elizabeth "is lighting another candle of hope" for families like Erica's, Potash said.

Greg Baker said he was astounded and delighted that Elizabeth was found alive and in apparently good physical condition.

"The whole scenario of the entire case, I thought she was lost," Baker said. "I didn't expect this - and I'm really happy for them ... it's something we've been hoping for ourselves, but I guess our time hasn't come yet."


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