April 7, 2006 -- Alabama teen Natalee Holloway disappeared 11 months ago during a high school graduation trip to Aruba with her classmates. Since then, local police have been unable to find enough evidence to convict anyone on charges related her disappearance.
Dutch youth Joran van Der Sloot and two friends were questioned and detained by Aruban police, but all three were eventually released. Natalee's family continues to believe that Van Der Sloot has information about her disappearance, and the family has filed a civil suit against the youth and his father, Paulus, in New York.
Nobody has been charged, and Natalee Holloway remains missing.
Natalee's father, Dave Holloway, has written a book called "Aruba: The Tragic Untold Story of Natalee Holloway and Corruption in Paradise," in which he describes the family's turmoil as the search for clues about Natalee's disappearance continues. Following is "Everybody's Child," an excerpt from "Aruba: The Tragic Untold Story of Natalee Holloway and Corruption in Paradise."
'Aruba: The Tragic Untold Story of Natalee Holloway and Corruption in Paradise'
I CANNOT TELL YOU HOW MUCH IT HURTS TO LOSE A child. There are no words to describe the feelings that choke a parent who outlives a daughter. It is not supposed to happen this way. I was never prepared for this kind of pain, this type of emptiness. My heart has an insurmountable void that used to be filled with Natalee's presence.
I watched as she received her high school diploma, and I took pictures of her at her graduation ceremony. I planned to be there when she graduated from college and then medical school. My pride would have enveloped us both. I had long imagined the day when I would see my Natalee in her beautiful white wedding gown. We would meet in the back of the church for her last moment as "daddy's little girl" and, as she encircled my arm with hers, I would lean down and whisper the words that all fathers must say to their daughters on that very special day, "I love you." I would walk her down the aisle and proudly offer her hand to her fiancé, and I would return to my seat knowing that my girl had accomplished all that a father could desire. At that moment, it would be clear that the first tier of her life with me had come to an end and that the man she would now look to for approval and love would be her husband. But she would always be my little Natalee . . . always.
When Natalee and her brother Matt were young, we lived in Clinton, Mississippi. We had been building some very special memories, but lately it has been difficult to recall them without a lot of pain. I try to picture Natalee riding her bike around the neighborhood, or envision the excited expression on her face when she woke up on Christmas morning and spotted the toys we had stayed up half the night putting together. I remember how she loved climbing up onto my back as I crawled along the floor on my hands and knees and how when she wanted to show off her dancing, she jumped up on her miniature table to do a routine and it tipped over, throwing her off and breaking her arm. I think back to her first days of kindergarten when she was only five and how I drove her up to school every morning and walked her to class to show her around and get her used to it. I can still see her sad little face during the second week when I told her it was time to go in on her own. She still wanted Daddy to walk her to class. I keep thinking back because I'm so afraid that if I don't, the memories will begin to fade. And, for now, that is all I have of her to hold on to.
Natalee was seven and Matt was five when their mother, Beth, and I divorced in 1993. After I remarried in 1995, my wife, Robin, and I lived in Jackson, Mississippi, but we relocated back to Clinton in 1996 to be close to Natalee and Matt. When Beth remarried in 2000, she and her husband, Jug, moved to Mountain Brook, Alabama, and Robin and I moved to Meridian, Mississippi, where our two daughters, Brooke and Kaitlyn, were born. Natalee and Matt live in Mountain Brook with Beth and Jug and visit us in Mississippi as often as their schedules allow. Prior to Natalee's sixteenth birthday and obtaining her driver's license, she and Matt had been coming to our home every other weekend and more frequently during their summer vacations from school. But, during Natalee's senior year in high school, her visits were a bit less frequent due to her many extracurricular activities. So Robin and I made it our business to visit her and watch her dance at football games with her dance team, the Dorians.
Robin and I have maintained a close, loving relationship with Natalee throughout her childhood and teenage years. We have tried to instill certain values and traits in all of our children that would enable them to succeed in life. Those values include honesty, integrity, morality, and a deep faith in God. We believe that Natalee has a solid foundation in those values. Robin and I have our own set of faith-based values that guide us in our daily lives. At this time of upheaval, we have gained strength from our reliance upon those values. We have felt God's presence every step of the way, and that is what has sustained us in these, our darkest hours of need.
Natalee is missing.
I desperately want her back.
From the moment that she was born on October 21, 1986, she has always been an exceptional human being. A father could not ask for more from a child. Her younger sisters lovingly call her Sissy, and she is a sensitive, loving, and articulate young woman. She is blessed with being beautiful both inside and out.
As Natalee completed her senior year, we were all excited about her next stepping stone in life. She was prepared to go off to the University of Alabama on a full scholarship to major in premed after graduating with honors and a 4.15 grade point average from Mountain Brook High School. She participated in numerous extracurricular activities, including the dance team and the Bible Club, and she was a member of both the math and Spanish honor societies. She had a part-time job at a health food store and performed volunteer work. She has some great friends, is well-traveled, and has always looked toward the future. She never showed any interest in drugs or alcohol, and she kept close ties with her siblings and classmates who all care for her very much.
In February 2005, Natalee called me and asked for permission to go on a trip to Aruba with her graduating class. This is apparently a rite of passage for teenagers all over the country. They convince their parents to allow this one-time privilege as a gift for all of their hard work, and parents often agree, even when their instincts tell them otherwise. I was apprehensive about Natalee taking this type of trip, and I tried to talk her out of it. I did not like the idea of her traveling that far away with so many other students and so few chaperones.
When I received the trip brochure I saw that the cost was approximately $985. Robin and I are from the old school, and we felt that was a bit extravagant for a high school graduation trip. After a few days of consideration, I told Natalee that we could not approve of the trip for two reasons: it was too extravagant, and we did not think it was appropriate. However, I told her that I would give her a graduation gift of half the amount of the cost of the trip for her to do with as she pleased. Since Natalee's stepbrother had been to Aruba with his class two years earlier, and her twin cousins were graduating with her class and were going along with her this year, Beth felt comfortable allowing Natalee to make the trip.
The months passed, and upon receiving the invitation to Natalee's graduation, she advised us that the school had opted to hold the ceremony at a local university theater hall. Due to the limited amount of seating, each graduate was allocated only eight tickets. We were to have three of them for my wife, Robin, Natalee's grandmother, and me. That left her two sisters out. Due to the distance, I asked Natalee if she could get two more tickets for her sisters otherwise Robin might have had to stay behind to care for them. As graduation weekend drew near, Natalee and I spoke again of the tickets, and she assured me that she would call all three hundred of her classmates if she had to in order to come up with them. On Monday, May 23, we heard from Natalee, and, in a hoarse voice, she told us that after calling nearly every student, she was finally able to get us the tickets. She said that she was just not going to give up on us. I praised her determination.
On graduation day, we arrived at Natalee's home expecting to rush up to the door, grab the tickets, and leave. Instead, she insisted that her two sisters come in to see her room. Natalee's grandparents, Beth's mother and mine, also wanted to catch up, so Robin and I and the family spent about forty-five minutes in my ex-wife's home. The situation was very unusual for us and somewhat awkward for me, but it was Natalee's big day. Looking back, I think that God had a hand in putting us all together on that very special day, the last day that we may be sharing a momentous occasion with Natalee.
As we were about to leave, Natalee informed us that she and her friends would be going somewhere after the graduation ceremonies, so she might not see us later on.
There were approximately three thousand people in attendance at graduation. When the ceremony ended, I realized that I hadn't given Natalee the gift we had brought, so we tried to locate her. Everyone had headed outside to a reception, but there were so many people, all wearing the same graduation gown, I just assumed that we would not see her again that day. I thought she might have already hooked up with her friends and left. We headed for the car, but Robin insisted that we go back to try to find her. Suddenly Natalee called my cell phone and said she wanted to see us. We communicated back and forth until we were able to locate each other. I gave her our graduation present, a check for $500. She was thrilled and thanked us. We hugged, and I took some photos. I mentioned the trip to Aruba and asked her to be careful. We all said our good-byes and left. Later that evening, she called to thank us again.
The day before Natalee was to leave for Aruba, she called and spoke to Robin. She told her how excited she was about the trip, and Robin once again strongly cautioned her to be careful. The next day, Natalee left with approximately 125 students and 7 chaperones. We heard that, upon their arrival in Aruba, the chaperones scheduled daily meetings with the students and collected their passports before distributing their room keys. Every day the students were to check in with the chaperones at a specific time.
On Monday, May 30, Natalee's trip came to an end, and she was due to fly home to Alabama. But late in the afternoon, I received a call from Matt telling me that Natalee had missed her flight and that Beth was getting on a plane to Aruba. She had told him to call me, but had no details yet. I attempted to get in touch with Beth. No answer. I googled hotels in Aruba and found a number for the Holiday Inn where the kids had been staying. I called and was able to talk to one of the trip chaperones who had stayed behind in Natalee's room. He filled me in about Natalee missing her flight. At the time, there was not much to go on. Someone from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency was there on vacation, and he made a few calls to the police. Apparently, they have the same rule that we have in the United States about waiting twenty-four hours before taking a report on a missing person. I would later find out that it is one of the very few rules or laws that the United States and Aruba have in common.
Beth had flown out of Birmingham on a friend's private jet as soon as she learned that Natalee had missed her flight. I contacted a commercial airline and booked the next flight out for 5:30 a.m. the following morning. I immediately started a checklist and packed my bags. I stayed in contact with Matt, and by around 10:00 p.m., some of the Mountain Brook kids who had arrived back in Birmingham indicated to him that Natalee left a bar with a nice kid who played soccer and was visiting Aruba from Holland. Some of the Mountain Brook boys said they sat with him around the poker table in a casino on the previous evening.
Later that night, Matt called again to tell me that Natalee's flight had been rebooked, and she would be coming home the next day. Someone from Delta Airlines had confirmed that a female had called and changed the flight. Matt felt that Natalee had simply missed her plane and rebooked it. I cancelled my flight, but I was still concerned because no one had heard from Natalee. The next morning, I started making more calls. I could not reach Beth, and I was unable to get a member of the Aruban police force to talk to me on the phone about Natalee. I called the Holiday Inn again, but nobody answered the phone in Natalee's room. By noon I learned that Natalee was not getting on the plane. I found out that it had been a chaperone from Natalee's group who had changed her flight in the hopes that she would reappear. It was then that I knew something tragic must have happened. I feared the worst, but prayed for a miracle. I hung up the phone and broke down. My mind was racing with so many "what ifs." Once I was able to regain my composure, I called my brothers, Phil, Steve, and Todd, and my brother-in-law, Michael. Phil, Michael, and I all tried to book flights out right away but could not get any until the next day. I tried to discourage my youngest brother, Todd, from coming. He was in bankruptcy and couldn't afford the trip. But he said he had to come, and he stayed behind to sell two of his vehicles just to get the money for the plane ticket. Steve, a fireman, had to make arrangements to get coverage for his job, so he also came in a little later on.
My pastor heard the news and called from out of town to pray with me over the phone. I can still hear his comforting words, "God, please give Dave and his family the strength to get through this." Our family is very strong, and we were determined to find out what happened to Natalee and bring her home.
My world was turned upside-down, and my emotions ran wild. I could barely function. I had to keep myself together in order to help Natalee. She needed me to find her. The search-and-rescue planning began immediately.
We left Meridian, Mississippi, on the evening of May 31, 2005. The flight to Aruba was long, and I was in a panic. On one hand, I was traveling there to bring Natalee home. On the other hand, I was afraid of the worst.
When I arrived in Aruba with my family, we hit the island running. We rented a car and immediately headed out to find a police station. There were only four on the island and I was amazed to find that the first two we entered knew nothing about Natalee's disappearance. We were then directed to a third one, the Noord Police Station. I walked in and said, "I'm Dave Holloway, and I need to talk to you about my daughter who is missing." A man in the back stood up and said, "How much money do you have?" That was how I first met Detective Dennis Jacobs, the investigator who was assigned to handle Natalee's case after Beth made a report to him upon her arrival on the island. I thought his comment about money was odd, but I ignored it and just tried to talk to him about finding Natalee.
Jacobs painted a scenario that questioned all of the beliefs and values that we had instilled in Natalee. He insinuated that she had met someone and fallen in love. "This happens all the time. She will probably show up in a few days," he theorized. "She was just partying hard," he added. "Don't worry. Just go down to Carlos'n Charlie's and have a beer." It was June 1, 2005, our first evening in Aruba, my daughter was missing and a detective was telling us to go to a local bar and have a beer. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. He said it was the hot spot for vacationing kids. "Maybe she will show up." In fact, he was so confident that she was just partying it up or on drugs that he told us this particular bar would be the best place to find her. However, he did warn us to watch our drinks very carefully, adding that sometimes people put drugs into them. When I talked about searching for Natalee, he questioned why we would want to do that.
He told us to go to Carlos'n Charlie's rather than the crack houses where he said that Beth's husband, Jug, and his friends had gone the night before. They went there due to information received from the police that a lot of the kids do drugs and party and that Natalee was probably with them. Jacobs told us that he had received reports that Jug's people were busting up the drug houses?he didn't want us going there and stirring things up too. He said we should leave any searching to the police, and if we had reason to believe that Natalee was in a crack house, we should call him and he would check it out. He then told us that the government controlled the crack houses in order to keep the drug addicts off the streets and away from where tourists shop and dine.
Jacobs also told us that the day before we arrived, he had interviewed the boys who eventually became the three main suspects in Natalee's disappearance, Joran van der Sloot, Deepak Kalpoe, and his brother Satish. Beth had informed him of them after receiving information about videotapes taken from the security cameras outside of the Holiday Inn and in the hotel's casino. It had been determined that they were the last people to be seen with her. Jacobs considered the boys' statements to be consistent in that they had all said that they dropped Natalee off at the hotel. However, I did not realize at the time that Beth had already told him that the tapes did not show Natalee returning to the Holiday Inn that night.
We left the police station in a state of shock. We couldn't believe the attitude of the detective. Just the fact that he asked how much money I had took me by surprise. What kind of question is that to ask the father of a missing child? It seemed as if he was not at all concerned about our daughter. But, since he was in charge of the investigation, we followed his instructions and traveled to Carlos'n Charlie's hoping to find out what had happened to Natalee. We arrived there at about 10:30 p.m. and what I found was not like anything I had envisioned. While customers must pass by a bouncer at the door, there was no indication that he was stopping anyone from entering. The bar was packed with teenagers doing Jell-O shots and sleazy-looking island boys preying on the beautiful young female tourists. The place has more than one bar, and people were dancing and singing in every corner of the bi-level establishment. It was an unbelievable scene, one that I wish I had known about before Natalee left on her trip. I did not want to stay inside, so we hung out around the street corners. In less than two hours, we probably experienced at least ten to fifteen offers from various drug dealers who wanted us to buy from them. Some government control, I thought. Out of curiosity, my brother asked one of them what he had. "Whatever you need," he answered. "I have it or I can get it." We managed to strike up conversations with some of them who confided that the "higher ups" wanted them to always remember one thing: while peddling their drugs, they were never to commit a crime against a tourist, especially any American around the cruise dock areas. Later that evening, we went back to the hotel and planned our next strategy.
The following day, we began searching the beaches and mountain areas in the morning; in the evening, we returned to the street corners looking for leads about Natalee. After several nights there, we were confronted by some of the stray drug addicts who had come into the tourist area with tips about Natalee. Apparently, Jug's friends had started handing out money for information about Natalee's whereabouts. We had heard that Beth and the people who were searching with her were handing out hundred dollar bills. Due to the information that we were receiving about drug use on the island, Beth's side of the family was pursuing the possibility of a drug-related kidnapping, and they were going into drug houses and driving around town.
One particular drug addict gave us a tip that Natalee was in a specific drug house operated by "Tanya and Jim." He said there was an escape door in the back of the house, and if we entered, she might be whisked away into a secret room. My brother Phil knew this was just a hoax as we had several others trying to get money from us for the same type of tip. The drug addicts were only interested in getting more money, and when word got out among them that the family was paying for tips, all of them wanted in on the action. Some asked us for $10, and when my brother began asking more questions without paying, the price dropped to $5. Phil started to walk off, and one man kept following him. He wanted money, any amount, and he finally yelled out, "Isn't she worth at least two bucks?" Phil was just about ready to bust him with a right-hand fist when an off-duty police officer walked by. The drug addict knew him by name and asked if he was on duty. He said no and kept walking. The drug addict then turned and walked off.
Meanwhile, I did some investigating and found out more about the locals Natalee met who had been hanging out with the students from her hometown. Apparently, the boys had been throwing around lies about where they were staying. We heard that one of them, Joran van der Sloot, the son of a Dutch justice official, did not reveal that he lived on the island, but instead led the girls to believe that he was a vacationing student from Holland staying at the Holiday Inn. He was the boy Matt had told me about and one of the three that Dennis Jacobs had questioned.
From what we had learned, on what was to be her last night in Aruba, witnesses saw Natalee leave Carlos'n Charlie's with the three locals, Joran van der Sloot, the Dutch boy, and Surinamese-born brothers Deepak and Satish Kalpoe. After that, she disappeared. When the boys were initially brought in for questioning, they all admitted having been with Natalee on the night of her disappearance, saying that they were at the bar but left there with her around 1:30 a.m. to take a fifteen-minute drive out to the lighthouse because she wanted to see it. They claimed to have brought her right back to the Holiday Inn where she was staying, and to have left her there with security guards who helped her inside because she was supposedly very intoxicated.
According to what we found out from the Mountain Brook students, Natalee had met Joran van der Sloot in a casino the day before she disappeared. It's inconceivable that Natalee would have gone off with any of those boys so late at night and voluntarily. Everything about their story was unsettling. I know my Natalee. She must have been forced or drugged to go with them, if she really did. And, if she did go with them, then the last men to see her alive were walking around free. That gave them more than enough time to get rid of any evidence that Natalee might have left behind with them.
Incredibly, the police did not feel there was a need to search for Natalee. My daughter was missing without a trace, and the police considered the situation a kid's prank, something that responsible children just go off and do on a whim. No way. I disagreed with their theory of what happened. I know my daughter. She would never worry her family like that, and there was no way that she would get involved with three strangers unless she did not know what she was doing.
There I was in Aruba, a strange place, searching for my little girl, not knowing where she was, how she was, or what had happened to her. As I reflected on what the police had told me, I realized that they were trying to use the most innocent details to create a motive for Natalee to have voluntarily disappeared. For instance, they had somehow seen the quote that she had put in her high-school yearbook. It was from Lynyrd Skynyrd's song "Freebird":
If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
For I must be traveling on now,
'Cause there's too many places I've got to see.
They wanted us to believe that those words were an indication that our daughter had been planning to leave of her own free will and that she needed to get away. Natalee had disappeared, leaving every one of her possessions, including her passport, behind in a hotel room. Their hypothesis simply does not make sense. She is not the type of person to be so irresponsible as to deliberately miss a plane flight home without a word. Not my Natalee!
From my first day on the island, I realized that I could not rely on the police to find my daughter. If they refused to search, we would organize and do it ourselves. We were able to obtain enough information to learn the route the boys had taken with Natalee. We decided to start the search at the California Lighthouse on the northwestern tip of the island and work our way back to the Holiday Inn. I enlisted about fifty tourists to help. We searched the ground area but did not do any type of digging at that time. Incredibly, a publicity agent named Carla, from a New York City firm that handles publicity for tourism in Aruba, tried to stop us from searching near the California Lighthouse, a tourist attraction, saying that it would be harmful to the island and bring too much negative media attention. She said she had even discussed it with Beth and that she had agreed. But I advised her that the search would go forward, no matter what kind of attention it brought. Natalee made a statement when giving us those graduation tickets: "I wasn't going to give up on you." And my statement to her now was, "I'm not going to give up on you either!"
While I was frustrated by the complete lack of police involvement, the process of an investigation wasn't completely foreign to me. My employment background includes sixteen years of investigation into auto accidents. Some of the cases I have dealt with involved lawsuits, and as a manager I had the opportunity to work closely with many attorneys. In fact, I managed a claim unit that supervised the litigation process prior to becoming an agent. During those years, I learned that in order to do a thorough investigation, whether in a criminal or civil case, a top priority while gathering evidence is patience. However, I also know that the first few days are always the most critical because, as time goes by, the evidence is increasingly difficult to obtain or is lost. Witnesses forget details or confuse them; important facts may be overlooked that could end up making or breaking the case. If the police were going to let those crucial days pass by without searching, then I was thankful that I was able to use my years of experience and knowledge in the investigation to do my own search for our daughter Natalee.
While Beth's side was taking care of most of the public areas, such as visiting schools, putting out posters in shops and public places, and riding around in vehicles at night chasing leads, my team focused on the ground search. The terrain on Aruba is unforgiving. The island is volcanic, and most of the land is uneven, jagged, pitted, rock formations. In some areas, if you fall without protection, you will cut yourself to shreds on the rocks. Almost all of the vegetation involves some sort of thorns, stickers, or cacti, including the trees and bushes. Due to the heat and rough terrain, it was similar to being in the desert. We searched through caves and other treacherous areas, and we came in every evening, sweaty, sunburned, cut up by thorns, briars, and most anything else we touched. It was an ordeal, but if we could find Natalee, it did not matter what we had to endure.
One day, while searching in a rocky area on the south side of the island, we surprised some mountain goats that were lazily sleeping in their safe cave hideout in a secluded inland mountain rock ridge overhang. I was probably the first human being that a couple of those baby goats had ever seen. Their parents trotted off out of the opposite end of the open cave while the young ones curiously watched as I sat on a rock and allowed myself to briefly let go. Tears ran down my face. I was worn out, and I was having one of those moments that I suppose was perfectly normal, under the circumstances. I still could not believe what was happening. How was it possible that I was in a foreign country searching for my missing daughter?
After a few minutes of much-needed rest, I regrouped, and we continued to clear the area. When we felt that we had exhausted our search there, we moved down to the beach and discussed our next plan of action. We searched by foot one day, by four-wheeler the next, and alternated with a four-wheel drive and walkers. We worked in groups of two each, for a total of four people, my brother, brother-in-law, and me. The other person was Patrick Murphy. He was from the Cayman Islands, and when he first saw Natalee's story break, he decided he would come to Aruba to help out. He joined in and assisted us for about two weeks. He said he was a little surprised when he found out that the three of us were conducting the search. The way we worked it was that two people would be let out of the vehicle. The second two would drive the vehicle approximately half a mile down the road at the southeast beach. They would get out and move forward. The other two would work toward the vehicle, then get in and drive past the other two and park the vehicle and continue to move forward. We each had radios to communicate.
During our daylight searches throughout the island, our group came across many abandoned houses where drug addicts had left razors and other drug paraphernalia. Some were filled with foul smelling odors, feces, urine, cardboard boxes they used as blankets or beds, and general trash. One of those houses was located right next to a fine restaurant near the hotel area and a McDonald's.
In a conversation with some locals, I was told that the island was a major shipment area and that drugs were abundant. After what I saw, I couldn't disagree. Several times, people came into the hotel to meet with other locals and an apparent drug deal was taking place. The person would come in to scope out the area prior to doing the deal. I witnessed a number of twenty-to-thirty-year-old couples entering the hotel after a hard night of partying, and it was obvious that their intoxicated state was from something other than alcohol. Where else could you go and have a weekend of crack or cocaine and return home without having to worry about being arrested for buying or using drugs? You certainly couldn't risk doing it that freely in the United States!
The days passed with no real leads and nothing to indicate whether Natalee was still alive. Hundreds of calls came in with tips that led nowhere and suggestions of crazy schemes that would try anyone's patience. We kept searching and praying. It was all we could do for Natalee, and we hoped it would be enough.
Aruba, being a Dutch protectorate, falls within the jurisdiction of the Dutch government, so I was told to arrive at the Coast Guard headquarters at 7:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 5, 2005, to meet with the captain of the Dutch Marines, along with some people from the police department. When everyone had assembled, I asked them what the plan was. They stared blankly at me and said that they were just told to show up and I would be in charge. I couldn't believe that I was expected to run the show, as though I knew their island better than they did, and well enough to tell them where to start looking. What an unbelievable situation! I wondered if they were either too incompetent to conduct a search on their own or whether they were trying to cover up a crime and hoping to appease me with the offer to look for Natalee wherever I suggested. Either way, it was incredibly frustrating, and it made me feel somewhat helpless. But I had brought a huge map with me that my team had been following and had crossed out where we had already searched. I showed them all where I thought they should begin. My brother and I arranged for the Dutch Marines to help search at the south end of the island in the sand dunes while we were going to search the area just south of the Holiday Inn in four-wheelers. We all agreed to meet back at the Holiday Inn at 11:00 a.m. to discuss our next move, then we left for our assigned areas. Phil rode in a police helicopter while Patrick and I split up and searched the beach.
Everything came to a sudden halt when the Dutch Marines found a bloody mattress in a shack on the beach. The media immediately swarmed the area. I went back to my hotel to notify everyone of the find. Thankfully, the blood turned out to be from a dog.
Not even a full week had passed, and I had become so engrossed in my daughter's disappearance that I was hardly aware of what was going on in the rest of the world. I had absolutely no idea that Natalee's situation had sparked widespread news coverage until I phoned home and heard about it from Robin. The only news channel that we were able to view in the hotel by the time we got back to our room late at night was CNN, and to hear from Robin that Natalee's picture was being broadcast all over the world was unbelievable. And it brought home the message that everyone, not just her family, took her situation seriously. I was glad to see that our plight had gained so much support in such a short time.
Natalee had become everybody's child.