All-Out Search for Missing Girl : Kidnaping: A community is galvanized in its efforts to locate 12-year-old Polly Klaas. She was abducted from her bedroom during a slumber party.
For Polly Klaas and this quiet Sonoma County town, it was a slumber party that became a nightmare.
The 12-year-old girl was at home with two friends Friday evening when a tall, bearded man broke into the house. As her mother slept in another room, the man bound and gagged the three girls at knifepoint and carried Polly away. She has not been heard from since.
The audacity of the kidnaping has shocked this peaceful suburban community 40 miles north of San Francisco and galvanized its citizens into an extraordinary campaign to find the missing girl.
Local print shops have produced more than 1 million flyers with Polly’s picture and a composite sketch of the abductor. Leaders of the volunteer effort hope to distribute Polly’s picture and the composite sketch so widely and quickly that the abductor will have no place to hide.
More than 800 volunteers have turned out to distribute the leaflets, search the town for signs of the girl, and staff a hot line set up in a donated storefront.
“A home is a place where we all feel safe, where our children are safe,” said Petaluma Police Sgt. Mike Kerns. “To have someone come in and steal one of our children makes us all feel uneasy and emotionally involved.”
Police and the FBI have assigned dozens of officers and agents to the unusual case but so far say they are mystified. “We have no motives, no demands, no ransoms, no suspects,” FBI spokesman Rick Smith said.
A steady stream of volunteers, from businessmen to bikers, from college students to grandparents, poured into the office Tuesday to offer help. Some were driving to places like Chico or Seattle and wanted to take leaflets to pass out on their arrival.
The search also went high-tech: The images and information were being sent by modem to other print shops as far as New Jersey so they could produce their own flyers. Polly’s picture and the composite sketch also will be posted on computer bulletin boards across the country to help spread the word.
David Collins, who has devoted his life to the search for missing children since his son, Kevin, was abducted at a San Francisco bus stop nearly 10 years ago, came to help coordinate the hunt. “I will keep helping parents because I know what it’s like,” he said.
A popular San Francisco radio talk show broadcast all morning from the search center, and a crew for the television show “America’s Most Wanted” arrived in town to prepare a segment on the kidnaping.
Marc Klaas, the girl’s father, said he was overwhelmed by the massive outpouring of support. At one time, 50 to 100 volunteers crowded into the center, answering phones, faxing flyers or getting assignments. “These people are unreal, whoever they are,” he said.
Still somewhat in a state of shock Tuesday, Klaas kept going over the sequence of events of the abduction, trying to find some explanation from the meager clues.
Polly, a brown-eyed girl with shoulder-length brown hair, was playing a board game with her two friends a little before 11 p.m. when the stranger entered the house, apparently through an open window, Klaas said.
Armed with a long knife, he told the girls to lie on the floor and not make a sound or he would slit their throats. Police will not say whether he tied up and gagged the girls with materials he brought or with clothing he found in the room.
The man, believed to be about 6 feet, 3 inches tall and 30 to 40 years old, asked which one of the girls lived in the house. When Polly identified herself, he demanded to know where any valuables were.
But instead of taking the coins and jewelry that she pointed out, he picked up the 80-pound, 4-foot, 10-inch girl and carried her away. About 20 minutes later, the other two girls managed to free themselves and call for help.
Klaas, who is divorced from Polly’s mother, Eve Nichol, said he knows people have questioned whether the abduction might be the result of a custody dispute. But he said he and his ex-wife are on good terms and his visitation rights have never been a problem.
“There’s no animosity between us,” he said. “She’s done a remarkable job raising Polly. My access to Polly is total.”
Sgt. Kerns said police have considered all possibilities in the case and believe the kidnaping was carried out by a stranger.
In the bid to find Polly, Klaas went to President Clinton’s town hall meeting in Sacramento on Sunday in the hope of asking the president a question and showing her picture on television. Time ran out before he could ask the question, but cameras did broadcast his poster showing Polly’s picture.
In the Petaluma area, the effort to publicize the case has been so successful that scam artists have begun calling residents, asking for funds for Polly and suggesting that donors put money in an envelope and pin it to their door, police said.
But leaders of the effort to find the girl gave no indication they are ready to let up. “There are still millions of people in this country who have not heard of Polly,” Collins said.