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Girls’ Disappearances Shake East Bay

Joyce Waite no longer lets her 9-year-old daughter walk alone to Fredrickson Elementary School in Dublin, even though the family lives only half a block away.

“There’s no way I let her walk alone,” Waite said. “It’s very upsetting when your child can’t be a child anymore. You can’t let them run around or go out and play.”

Elsewhere around the East Bay, other worried parents are showing up to collect their children at the end of the school day.

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Over the last eight months, three girls have disappeared in separate incidents within a 40-mile radius in the East Bay, leaving local police puzzled and parents nervous about their children’s safety.

Last June 3, Amber Swartz-Garcia disappeared after she walked out of her Pinole home to jump rope. Amber’s parents have conducted a nationwide search for their daughter but no clues have turned up.

On Nov. 19, 8-year-old Michaela Joy Garecht was seen being dragged into a car by a blond-haired man at a grocery store parking lot near her Hayward home.

The latest to disappear was 13-year-old Ilene Misheloff of Dublin. Police believe she was kidnaped Jan. 30 while walking home from school.

An incident last Saturday added to the tension. A Union City girl tore herself from the grasp of a man who was trying to abduct her from an apartment complex parking lot where she was practicing baton twirling.

There have been no arrests in any of the cases. Police so far have no evidence linking the incidents, but they have not ruled out the possibility.

At Wells Middle School, where Ilene was a student, school officials said scores of parents have shown up for assemblies and counseling sessions to express their concerns over the safety of their children.

“We’ve been trying to keep a concerned business-as-usual attitude at the school,” said Wells Middle School Principal Linda Pearson. “We try to keep it business as usual because it’s best for kids at this age. But there has also been a lot of concern.”

Some Wells students are wearing yellow ribbons to show their desire to see Ilene returned to her family, Pearson said.

Since his daughter’s disappearance, Michael Misheloff said thousands of community members have joined in helping his family cope with the crisis. Some have donated money to aid the search for Ilene, while others have volunteered their time to pass out flyers asking people to be on the lookout for the teen-age girl with curly brown hair and braces.

“It’s been real therapeutic to see so many people giving of themselves,” Misheloff said.

Dublin police have stopped short of calling the incident a kidnaping but said they have no reason to suspect that Ilene ran away from home. Police said Ilene appeared to have a good relationship with her family and did well in school.

Michaela Garecht’s kidnaping was re-enacted three weeks ago on the “Unsolved Mysteries” television show. But so far this has not helped police.

“We are constantly getting calls about look-alike suspects, but nothing solid,” said Hayward Police Lt. Chuck Breazeale.

Months after the kidnaping, Hayward police still receive as many as 30 calls a day from people who think they may have seen the kidnaper.

“We still believe strongly someone out there knows all about this and hasn’t gotten around to giving us a call,” Breazeale said. “We’re hoping for that call.”

After the Garecht kidnaping, Hayward police launched an education campaign through schools and community outreach programs for parents and children.

“Children need to be aware there are some bad people, but we certainly don’t want to make them paranoid,” Breazeale said.


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