How Jaycee Dugard and Similar Cases Changed Us

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RENO, NV - Their faces conjure up moments of our worst fears. Children taken never and found, taken and murdered.

Families left devastated, their questions never answered.

No one who lived here through these moments could watch their anguish and not share in their grief and fear for our own.

Even two decades later and knowing the eventual outcome, it's heart wrenching to watch Terri Probyn's first statements to the media days after her 11 year old daughter was snatched in broad daylight of a South Lake Tahoe roadway.

She stepped from the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office and choking back tears spoke into the waiting cameras.

"To the people who took my daughter," she said. "She's pretty, a young innocent child. You may like her, but we love her too and she needs to come home."

Then she spoke to her daughter. "Jaycee, if you're out there, you know I love you and I want you to come home soon."

Once more to her abductors, "Please don't hurt her."

In the days and weeks that followed, Jaycee's disappearance was rarely out of the public's view.

"That case was remarkable," says former KOLO 8 anchor Tad Dunbar, "in that it happened in plain view of her step father who was close enough to see it happen and too far away to do anything about it."

But there were other reasons the response to the Dugard case was compelling and it began with Terri Probyn herself.

"She understood very early what she had to do," says Shannon Brinias, a a KOLO 8 reporter in 1991, now an anchor at our sister station in Colorado Springs.
"She knew she had to talk to the media to keep the story in the news."

She did and at times it seemed all of South Lake Tahoe joined in. There were posters, candlelight vigils, prayer services, even a song.

Altogether it did more than give emotional support to Jaycee's family. It kept the case before the public.

Probyn made herself available on just about any occasion, any opportunity to sit for an interview, to once again focus public attention on her daughter's disappearance.

A few months after Jaycee's kidnapping, the opportunity was the announcement that another missing girl's remains had been found.

Monica Da Silva had actually disappeared before Jaycee, taken from her first floor bedroom in an Idlewild Drive apartment.

Her scattered remains had been found a month later in Lagomarsino Canyon east of the Truckee Meadows, but had been unidentified for a year.

Watching coverage of the announcement Terri Probyn faced her own worst fears.

"It's different," she said at the time. "The ages are different, I don't want to believe." Adding, "There's that denial again, that it could happen that way with Jaycee."

By that time, changes were already underway here in Washoe County, changes brought by experience and hard lessons learned through a string of missing and murdered children's cases.

It began with the kidnapping and murder of Lisa Bonham, taken on a summer afternoon at Idlewild Park in 1977. Her murder would be solved 23 years later by an advance in science--DNA.

Others followed and today remain frightening mysteries.

Six years after Lisa Bonham, ten year old Tony Franko disappeared in one morning walking to school on a Lemmon Valley street.

Today his school would call if he failed to show up. Back then they did not. And once before, after a scolding from his mother, an angry Tony left a note and ran into the nearby hills. Deputies responded and will tell you today they did all they could, but the possibility he was a runaway remained part of his story for years.

Just four years later, 11 year old Jennifer Martin left her home literally a few blocks from Franko's house in Lemmon Valley and walked to a nearby convenience store, bought a soda and leaving simply disappeared.

Again authorities responded, a Secret Witness reenactment was distributed, but witnesses were few and the trail quickly went cold.

But the kidnappings and murders of eight year old Charles Chia and his six year old sister Jennifer two years later would begin to change things.

The Chias got off a school bus one September afternoon in Southwest Reno and never made it home a short walk away. Their bodies were found the next summer a short distance from a highway west of Portola.

Three months later Monica DaSilva disappeared.

A year later. by the time Terri Probyn was watching news reports of the discovery of her remains Washoe County law enforcement had established a Major Crimes Task Force and adopted a new protocol.

"What we learned was to use everybody we can," says Ron Dreher, the lead detective until retirement on the Chia and DaSilva cases. "Use fliers. Use the media. Use everybody. Use the community itself to resolve these things.

Sadly that protocol was not yet policy in South Lake Tahoe. If Jaycee Dugard had been kidnapped here, Dreher says, the response would have been different.

"The stepfather reports the kidnapping. Shut the lake down," noting there are only five roads out of the Tahoe Basin..

"The things they don't know at the time and you try to help other agencies learn that.

That failure may have been the first in a long series of mistakes that would delay Jaycee's recovery for years, but Dreher says he's not second guessing South Lake Tahoe law enforcement. They didn't have Washoe County's experience to guide them.

"Until you've had a couple of cases like this. Until you put together the major crimes units like we currently have in Washington with the Missing Child Task Force back there. Then you learn to handle these things from the beginning the right way.'

The key says Dreher, is an immediate, massive response, assuming the worst and enlisting everyone.

"Treat everything as real. The kids are not at a friend's house. If it turns out that way, great. That's what you want."

Little of this was in place in the earlier Washoe County cases and some like Jennifer Martin's sister, Colleen, can only wonder what might have been.

"If that had been in place when Jennifer was abducted I just feel like it wouldn't be 24 years later and she would still be missing."

The Martin family, Tony Franko's still wait for word, even cling to a faint hope given new life by Jaycee's recovery.

Anne Chia and Monica DaSilva's parents still wait for justice.

In our celebration of Jaycee Dugard's return, we should in this moment and beyond remember them, their children and the hard lessons their losses taught us.