It was a dark, extremely chilly evening in March of last year that a mother’s worst nightmare nearly came true.

Emily, sweet three year old Emily, was missing.

This has always been one of my deepest fears, that one of my children would be lost or taken. Emily was missing for nearly a half hour…unless you’ve had the same experience, you can’t even begin to comprehend the thoughts that can enter the mind of a mother during that interminable length of time. My child, my baby, alone in the dark, at the mercy of strangers. Thirty minutes can seem a life time…

The Sunday evening that Emily wandered away from home was like any other. The children had been outside riding bikes and scooters. The two older boys were quite fond of giving the little girls wagon rides around the block and would, on occasion, take the wagon for their own nefarious purposes. Even though she was only allowed to play in the side yard and on the porch, Emily had been having a lot of fun with her wagon that day, pulling it up and down the walkway with her dollies. Dressed in her pretty Sunday frock, tights, patent leather shoes, a teal Rothschild coat with matching hat, gloves and muff she looked the part of a little princess. That’s Emily all over…always overdressed for the occasion! She left her wagon to come inside for a quick drink and returned to find it missing.

The boys! Emily was quite sure the boys had taken her wagon and set off, alone, to retrieve it…

A quick note: We lived on the busiest street corner imaginable, within 1000 yards of two registered pedophiles, with several other registered offenders within a mile radius. If you think your neighborhood is safe, check with your state police. Nearly every state has a sex offender database…

I had been preparing dinner when Emily came in for her drink. She looked so adorable. A quick smile and she was out the door. I noticed it was getting a bit dark and went to the porch to call all the children in, having set out a little pre-dinner snack–cups of cinnamon applesauce, a favorite. They all came in, kicking off shoes, dropping coats, hats and gloves in the doorway. “Put your things away! There’s a snack on the table!” I called from the kitchen. No head count, I trusted they were all inside. What a mistake!

The children were rather antsy and dinner was still about an hour off. “How about a little reading, guys? The Two Towers? Let’s see if we can finish it tonight…” Universal consensus. Mom takes her place on the sofa, with the book, but not before noticing that there is an unfinished cup of applesauce on the table. “Whose is that?” A quick survey reveals that it’s obviously Emily’s. “Where is she?” The children seem to think she’s upstairs.

“Go get her…”

She’s not upstairs. Nor is she in my room or any other room in the house. Our neighbors, who live on the other side of this large dwelling, confirm my worst fears. She’s not there either.

Missing!! Dear God…Emily is missing! It’s cold, it’s dark, she’s alone…

Complete panic and pandemonium. Neighbors, children and parents are circling the house, calling for her, screaming for her. No answer, just the cold, dark night…father is running down the sidewalk towards town, brothers are on their bikes spanning a larger area. Mommy does the one thing she can:

“9-1-1 how may I help you?”

“My child is missing! Her name is Emily, she’s only three years old! Please, help me! I don’t know what to do!”

“Calm down, please! We’re sending a car immediately. Can you please give us a description…”

I’m weeping even now, as I write…So many thoughts, so many horrible, awful thoughts…the vile men who have preyed upon other children…did they take her? Did they see her alone, vulnerable, unwatched? Would I ever see her again? We were moving in a week!! To the country, but now it seemed we were in the midst of a malevolent hurricane, one determined to rip this child from our family. Beseeching heaven, I begged the intercession of St. Anthony, St. Jude, St. Joseph, St. Michael, begging God for mercy, trying to quell the sense of panic that had pervaded my mind and heart.

I completed my description to the 911 operator, thanking her and prepared to hang up…

“Mam! They’ve found her! I just received the dispatch…they have her in the car and her older brother is with her. She’s alright…”

“Safe!! Emily is safe! Thank God…this nightmare is over!”

Except it wasn’t. It had just begun.

To be continued…