Barbara Glenn, a 911 supervisor in Lewis County, sends up a balloon in recognition of missing children. / Courtesy photo by Jennifer Ducummon
By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – Michelle Croft and Melissa Baum are living every parent’s nightmare, but still took time out to help Lewis County 911 dispatchers shine a spotlight on the resources available to both prevent and find missing children.
Both have daughters who vanished; Kayla Croft-Payne three years ago and Lindsey Baum from McCleary in Grays Harbor County almost a year before that.
“It’s a club none of us wants to be in,” Baum said last week when the two mothers took part in a gathering at Stan Hedwall Park in Chehalis.
Lindsey Baum was 10 years old, when she was last seen June 26, 2009. She left a friend’s house to walk home and never arrived. Kayla Croft-Payne was 18 and living southwest of Chehalis on April 28, 2010 when she last logged onto her MySpace internet account. She was reported missing on May 5 by a friend who hadn’t seen or heard from her for several days.
Though Kayla was already technically an adult, Lewis County sheriff’s detectives have made sure her information got added to various databases on missing kids.
Kayla’s younger sister Shelbie regularly sends messages to Kayla, via floating helium balloons up in to the sky.
“Three or four times a month, plus events like this,” Croft said.
On Wednesday, beneath gray and drizzling skies, they did it again. Theirs was among scores of red and white balloons released in recognition of youngsters who have disappeared.
“Each balloon represents hopes and prayers for the eventual return of each missing child,” said Craig Larsen, Lewis County 911 manager.
Larsen’s staff began a big push last year to do more about the issue, taking part in training to provide swift and decisive responses in the early stages of incidents.
The first few moments when a child goes missing are the most critical, Larsen told a crowd of more than 40 individuals.
“You never get to go back to that,” he said.
The county department recently got its certification from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
His people have been working to spread the word about what others can do.
What they’ve learned from NCMEC, is families can help by making sure their little ones know their own phone number, their address, he said.
“Their parents names, not just ‘mom’ and ‘dad’,” he said. “Together, we really can make a difference.”
There are approximately 800,000 missing kids in the country today, according to Larsen. Eleven of them are from Lewis County.
The following list was read on Wednesday of 11 children who are listed as missing from Lewis County, compiled from local law enforcement agencies by the Washington State Patrol’s Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit.
• Kayla Croft-Payne: Since April 2010, then age 18, believed endangered
• Xavier Burroughs: Since February 2011, then age 1, circumstances unknown
• Lillie Burroughs: Since February 2011, then age 2, circumstances unknown
• Angelica Mejiamoctezuma: Since May 2012, then age 15, believed runaway
• Ashley Fern: Since September 2012, then age 16, believed runaway
• Ashley Tanner: Since January 2013, age 17, believed runaway
• John Williford: Since January 2013, age 17, believed runaway
• Antonio Aguilar: Since January 2013, age 17, believed runaway
• Ruben Valles-Nortin: Since February 2013, age 15, believed runaway
• Cody Moorman: Since May 10, 2013, age 13, believed runaway
• Lilli Morellia: Since May 18, 2013, age 17, believed runaway
See missing children of Washington state, here
Lewis County 911 is distributing resource materials to local libraries and through the sheriff’s office. The “Take 25” campaign – with info also available online – encourages parents and other adults to take 25 minutes to talk to children about safety.
Stan Hedwall Park, Chehalis. May 22, 2013 / Courtesy photo by Jennifer Ducummon