August 31, 2016

ACCAN, Epigenetics, & Missing Children

Conference week is going great! Not only was I able to see three old friends from college on Sunday and Monday nights (at delicious restaurants: Taj Mahal and Pantry Crest), catching up with one another's lives and each other's opinions on the state of America, etc., the conference itself has been extremely worthwhile too. I was even proud of myself this evening after spending over two hours at a table with a current employee of a previous organization I've worked for (whom I'd never met) and a presenter from the conference - social anxiety out the roof that they were interested in my opinions aside, we had some really great conversations I can't imagine being brought about in any other environment.

Monday was technically a professional development day for my specific program, which was revitalizing as it's the only time each year we all get together - it was the first time I'd met most of my fellow educators. We shared what we've learned so far and brainstormed how to make our program even more effective than it already is. We watched an incredible documentary, initiating a discussion over epigenetics and reminding us that nurturing mitigates metabolic syndrome - that it does not change your genes, but it changes the way they're expressed. That nurturing is the most powerful thing, regardless of money or environment, in rearing a child but that a mother has little time for nurturing if she's frantically trying to provide basic necessities like shelter. That everything we do is backed by science.

Onto the conference itself. The first day alone I've heard speakers like Dr. John Murphy of my alma mater discuss solution-focused helping and Chief Jim Holler inform an audience how suffocation is the most difficult child murder to prove as homicide and how they do it. But perhaps the most moving was the keynote speaker: Colleen Nick.
Age Progression to Present Day
Now, if you're not from Arkansas, or maybe even if you are, you may not be familiar with the Morgan Nick Foundation or the case that began it all. In June 1995, a 6 year old girl was kidnapped from a baseball game in Alma while catching fireflies with two friends, after her mother had told her no several times before finally caving to her daughter's pleas. She has been missing ever since (despite many leads and false confessions), and Colleen has never stopped searching for her. When people ask her why she doesn't just move on, doesn't she wonder that she must be dead, etc. -- she chooses to look at it as: what if she's still out there? Not only has she never given up hope on finding her daughter, she has truly taken a tragedy and turned it into something powerful by developing the Morgan Nick Foundation, which has aided in other children being returned safely home.

This really hit home for me, so I introduced myself and thanked her for her work after her presentation.

144 days prior to Morgan's kidnapping,
my biological father was served divorce papers on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. My mother had requested that she be told when he was served because she was afraid how he would react - and she didn't think they'd be served over a holiday weekend. She did not get a call from her lawyer until the next day - that the papers had been served to a Jim Garrett at her home address - this was the name of her brother who wouldn't have been there. It was obvious that it had been my father lying, but it was odd that he should have felt the need to lie.

Also on MLK day, my father had come into the flea market where my mother worked (in addition to being a schoolteacher) and asked her if she was sure if "this" was really what she wanted... she assumed he was referring to the divorce, which he knew about, but hadn't realized the papers had actually been served.

After receiving the phone call from her lawyer the Tuesday after the holiday, my mother felt that something wasn't right. She watched the clock until the second she could leave school and drive home. Upon her arrival, she immediately noticed his boxes of belongings, which had been stacked along the hallway inside, were gone. She burst into my bedroom. Aside from a large plastic playhouse, it was completely empty.

Unfortunately, people don't take parental abductions quite as seriously as other kidnappings. When the police arrived, they told my mother that even if they happened to find the Saab, stuffed to the brim with toys and a three year old girl, they couldn't do anything about it. That she was still married, no custody issues had been discussed, and he had just as much of a right to me as she did.

She pleaded with them to listen - that the divorce papers clarified no one could take me out of the county with intent to hide. She had even found a to-do list he had written, including "buy hair dye." After much questioning, my brothers eventually admitted our father had shared with them that they might not see him for a long time and that he was going to do something they might not be able to forgive him for. Despite all of this, it still took her until Thursday night or Friday morning to convince them he had taken me out of the county with intent to hide, when they finally put a warrant out for his arrest. In the meantime, my mother had installed call waiting for the first time to not miss any calls. She'd been posting fliers and giving them to truckers and making phone calls to everyone she knew. She was distraught.

Friday afternoon, a woman named Jan Parker was running my father's information as he tried to get a room in Arlington, Texas and something on her computer informed her he was wanted. She deterred him by saying the room wasn't ready and and he'd have to wait for it to be cleaned. During this time the police arrived and soon after I was back in my mom's arms.

I've never found this woman who reunited us but I would like to so I could tell her thank you.

I was only missing for three days, but I like to think if it had been longer, my mother would have been like Colleen Nick: never giving up. What an inspiration she is.

Myself a few months prior to January 1995.
I'm so grateful that we have progressed our technology to make abducted children easier to find, and I wish that technology had been around at the time of Morgan's abduction. I hope that one day her family can find peace and bring her home.

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