Thursday, August 29, 2013
For those of you who have gotten to know me through SP, you will quickly learn that I'm a country girl with big city ambitions. Basically saying, you can move me anywhere in the world and far away from the country, but I'll always be that small-town girl at heart.
I grew up in an extremely small town of less than 800 people in the SW part of Missouri by the name of Golden City. If you've never heard of it, there is a reason why...if you blink you might miss it. My maternal grandfather was born and raised in this town and moved away in his 20's and settled in Minnesota, where he eventually met my maternal grandmother. Some years later, my grandparents moved back to the quiet farming community to retire. It was then that my grandmother opened up her famous (no joke) restaurant, which she ran until the early 80s. She sold it to a young couple who kept up her "home cooking" tradition and have since passed it on to their children. Cooky's Café is still a Golden City and SW MO restaurant staple.
Growing up in a town this small has it's pros and cons, as most places do. However, my family never really worried about locking their doors at night, or worried about where I was while out and about on my bicycle. I could run and play in the park for hours without fear. This pretty much stayed the same until about a decade ago, when the methamphetamine problem really hit our little town like a ton of bricks. With that problem, came in a different crowd of people. Trust me, if you've never lived in a small town, you'll quickly find out that "outsiders" are not generally welcome, especially if you're not more of a "local" outsider. We literally have various levels of what we consider an "outsider." Someone who is from a town close by is generally more accepted than someone who is from a big city. If you're from out-of-state, forget getting accepted right away...that takes years.
There were very few kids my age that lived in town, most of the kids lived out in the country on farms with their families. However, I was the "town" kid that yearned for the opportunity to live out on a farm like my other classmates. I hated living in town because there was no one to play with. The kids that lived down the street were much younger than me and the kids that lived up the street were much older. Eventually, when I was about five years-old, a family moved in down the street. The Horton family was originally from the area, but had been living out in the country and moved into town. Both of the kids, a boy and girl, were roughly my age. The girl was in my class, which meant we spent a lot of time together and became best friends. We are still close friends. Included in the Horton "Tribe," as we called them, was a very big extended family of cousins, aunts and uncles, that all lived in the general area. I became friends with the whole family and spent a great deal of time with them throughout the years.
Now and days, I have to keep up with them via Facebook as they get married, add new additions to the family and relocate to different areas of the state or out-of-state. So, last week when I saw a posting from one of the Horton family members stating one of their children was missing, I was shocked, especially in a small town like Golden City. Then, I kept seeing hundreds of postings from friends and family in the town stating that a large search was underway for 12 year old Adriaunna Horton, who had gone missing from a park across the street from her house. That park...was the same one her aunts/uncles/cousins/grandpare
nts and friends have played in since they settled in Golden City many years ago. It's also the same park that sits directly across the street from my childhood home. The same park that my grandfather donated the money to the city to build back in 1957. It's the same park where my baby feet and hands are forever imprinted into the concrete sidewalk.
I was frantically trying to reach members of my family to find out what was going on. My mother told me the search for Adriaunna was massive and included local, state and federal police. They had detained someone in connection to her disappearance, but they had no evidence that this particular person had her, but several witnesses, including Adriaunna's younger sisters had seen her get into a car with this man. After hearing this information from my mother, my heart sank. I have a bad feeling about it all, but I started praying that she would be found soon and alive.
Everyone always teaches their children not to "talk to strangers" and to not go anywhere with someone who is a stranger. But the man who was detained in connection to her disappearance was far from a stranger. In fact, he was a close family friend who had spent time with the Horton family and even worked construction jobs with them all. His children had played with the Horton children and they even took vacations together. One has to ask themselves, "how can this be?"
Hours went by with no word on where little Adriaunna was. Eventually hours turned into days and the search party widened their area coverage. The man detained was refusing to cooperate with police and people became frustrated and the jail started receiving death threats. He had to be moved to a jail two counties away. My family helped search for hours and days, often refusing to stop searching when the search party was called off each night after dusk. All anyone knew is that this beautiful little girl was missing and we needed to get her home, safe and sound.
About 48 hours after she was kidnapped, the FBI notified the community that they were going to widen their search even further and possibly into another county. My brother lives and owns a lot of property on the county lines and he decided that he would join in on the search. He called up his neighbor down the road and the two of them together started searching their acreage with police. Little Adriaunna's body was located on my brother's property later that afternoon.
I cannot even begin to tell you how devastating this has been for so many people, particularly the Horton family. My brother is a quiet man, who rarely speaks unless spoken to...he's not speaking much at all these days. Yesterday, they laid her to rest and the funeral home wasn't big enough to hold the service, so they moved it to the HS gymnasium, which turned out to not be big enough either. Over 3,000 people showed up for her funeral. The community came together and all the burial expenses were taken care of, in addition to scholarships, trust funds, etc for the remaining siblings. The little girl's parents are divorced and the father had been raising Adriaunna and her two younger sisters on his own for awhile.
The suspect has been charged with her death, among other things. He refuses to speak to anyone and no motive for her death has been revealed. The community is in an uproar and the suspect's family has had to flee the town because of death threats. I'm not surprised, our community is quite protective and this was the most devastating thing to happen to us that I can recall. But we are a community the rises above tragedy, as we did with the Joplin tornado. We are a tight community, many of us have family roots that go back hundreds of years. The population hasn't grown much over the years, but the sense of community has. This became evident in the past 10 days, as people gathered together, searched, organized, donated, and grieved together.
I truly never would have thought something like this would happen in my hometown community. Sadly, times have changed and it's not safe anywhere, so it seems. I hope those of you who are parents, say a little prayer each and every day for the beautiful gift that you've received in each of your children. You never know what each day holds for us, so count your blessings and remember your roots!
The past 10 days have been a mixture of emotion for me. I was so grateful that my husband's grandmother made it through surgery, but also devastated at the loss of this beautiful little girl who will never get to experience a full life. On my way back to Italy, I just kept thinking about how something of this magnitude happened in a quiet farming town like ours. I know it's going to take a long time for the community to recover, but even more so for the family. I just wish the ending would have been different. I pray that she is safe now and someone's guardian angel.