If I were God…the one horror I would do away with on earth is the periodic snatching and killing of young girls.
It happened again last night. This time in Springfield. At age 10, Hailey Owens’ earthly life ended yesterday, apparently at the hands of a 45-year-old pervert who, of all things, was a paraprofessional and coach in the Springfield School District.
I have been in St. Louis the last few days, and about 7 p.m. last night I got an Amber Alert on my cellphone regarding the abduction of a girl in Springfield. Police were looking for a gold-colord Ford Ranger. They had a license-plate number.
I really didn’t think too much about it at the time because a lot of these abductions are related to domestic situations, where one or another estranged parent has taken a kid or failed to return one.
Back in my hotel room, after watching a bit of TV, I realized this was a bad situation — a stranger abduction.
Immediately, the Pamela Butler case came rushing back to my mind. That fateful day was Oct. 12, 1999, when I was bureau chief in KCK.
I was at home when I saw a brief story on the 10 p.m. news that a 10-year-old girl had been snatched from in front of her Armourdale home. She had been roller skating, and a guy lying in wait in a truck had jumped out, snatched her and sped off, shouting to several astounded bystanders, “You’ll never see her alive again.”
A guy who was a block or so away heard people screaming and pointing at the truck, which was speeding away. In his vehicle, he pursued the abductor for a couple of miles, at least. But he really didn’t know what was going on and didn’t see a passenger because the driver had handcuffed her to the passenger-side door handle and was pushing her head down, out of view. The abductor lost him somewhere in the Rosedale area.
Reporters didn’t know all that at the time, but the night desk at The Star got a short story in the paper the next morning. A three-day manhunt ensued. I worked the story for two days, overseeing reporters and editing stories. I was heartsick the whole time and had trouble carrying on, mainly because our daughter Brooks was 11 at the time, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind that it just as easily could have been her.
I had scheduled a vacation day for Friday, the third day of the story. Instead of staying on to work the story, I took the vacation day. My supervisor wasn’t happy, although he didn’t say anything critical. I just didn’t want to face a third straight day of the story. I took Brooks and our 10-year-old son Charlie bowling at Ward Parkway Lanes, and I remember watching a TV report of 24-year-old Keith D. Nelson being fished out of the Kansas River near the 12th Street bridge. Pamela’s body was found in Grain Valley.
Nelson was later convicted of rape and murder in federal court and sentenced to death. He’s now 39 and still sitting in prison somewhere.
So, yesterday it was Hailey.
Like Pamela, she was outside her home. Probably playing. The man in the gold truck had driven down her street, West Lombard, several times. Just like Nelson, he bided his time. Then pounced.
Pounced like an animal. Him and Nelson both. Animals. Pieces of space junk, dropped in from the atmosphere with no redeeming value and preying on innocence.
And this guy, the guy charged — Craig Michael Wood. Forty-five years old. Employed by the Springfield School District since August 1998. Working at Pleasant View Elementary School.
His job? To teach, coach and nurture kids from ages 5 to about 13.
Take a look at his picture, which was on the kansascity.com website as of about an hour ago. Would you want your kids being taught or coached by this guy?
If I were God…