My daughter Havilah left the home yesterday afternoon sporting a light backpack. I joked with her, asking if she was running away. She laughed, “No, just walking to the corner and back.”
Four hours later a county deputy was calling Search & Rescue from my front yard.
This happened on Saturday, a rare afternoon where Wendy and I were alone for much of the afternoon, a rare moment in our super-sized family. We took advantage of the time to knock out tasks in our kitchen and dining room — working through some personal finance stuff, mixing up a batch of venison jerky and preparing it for dehydration, talking about projects around the house and in our busy lives. An hour quickly went by when a chore of chopping carrots came up, a perfect job for Havilah.
“Havilah? Did she get back?” I asked.
“I thought she was downstairs,” Wendy replied. “Where did she go?”
Wendy didn’t know Havilah went for a walk. I spoke with her about a hundred yards from our rural-residential home. I had returned from an errand when I rolled down the window and joked with her about running away. We live within two miles of the million-acre Pike National Forest, 5-30 acre homesteads spread through a mesa between sprawling housing developments. Civilization to the North, South, and East, vast mountains to the West — the direction I last saw Havilah walking.
Havilah was named after the youngest of the three daughters in the broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof. A “little bird” (her name’s meaning in Hebrew), Havilah is the maternal twin of her brother, born two-thirds his size. She is truly a free spirit, too, a floating angel who walks around the house on her tip-toes. She isn’t your typical 15-year-old — no phone, no social media, an email that she uses to talk to a few close friends. She’s quite content with her quiet teenage lifestyle.
Had a whole hour passed? It was 4:00, and I didn’t remember the exact time I returned. No matter, it was a little too long for a walk “to the corner and back.” We searched the house for the secret places she likes to sit by herself, the introvert she is, listening to music on her cat-eared headset. We didn’t find Havilah anywhere, but we did find her headset in her room.
This didn’t make sense. Wendy and I jumped into separate cars and drove all over our housing subdivision. Saturday was beautiful, unusually warm for January, lots of kids at the park in the housing development to the south of us. I hypothesized that perhaps she walked to the park, but I found no sign of her there. Wendy went the other way toward town, but that would have been an unusual path for Havilah to take. We ruled that out, too.
Cognitive dissonance was full throttle as we tried to find explanations to our daughter’s disappearance. I walked to our neighbor’s home where we deliver dinner scraps for their chickens through the week, no sign of Havilah. Our neighbor volunteered to go to more neighbors and ask around, and she even drove to the nearest gas station, a Pilot gas station off the I-25 corridor a mile to the east of our home. No sign of Havilah.
The deputy later told us that arrests are made at the Pilot every week. Human trafficking, drug dealing, prostitution — a rough place, indeed.
It was now roughly 4:30. The temperature was dropping from the mid-50s to return to a bitter Colorado cold for the night. The sun would soon be down. I called 911 and waited for connection with a deputy. In the meantime we called Havilah’s older siblings — perhaps they drove by, perhaps they knew something, perhaps anything.
“Havilah walked to the Pilot a couple days ago,” her brother told us. That was news to us. My heart sank to a new low. Wendy and I tried not to scare one another, but we were starting to panic.
Our family is networked, a “family text loop” with all siblings, spouses of siblings, even our daughter who lives in Australia is looped into the speed dial. We shot into our own Search & Rescue, as much as we could, to find Havilah. Another neighbor reported that she walked all the way to the top of the road and turned into the new development, supporting the suspicion that she walked to the Pilot.
I’m sure the Pilot has cameras everywhere, I reasoned. I tried not to entertain the thought of the Pilot’s reputation for crime, but it was a hard fight. The search was on, the scent strong.
Still waiting for the deputy to arrive, I checked the camera at our front door. I was able to pinpoint the exact time of Havilah’s departure: 2:33. Another heart drop, she had been gone for nearly three hours.
Tabitha and her husband, Nathan, came over, as well as Isaiah and Brie. Micah left a job site in Larkspur and drove his work truck up Mt. Herman Road, the main road into Pike National Forest. Keilah’s friend put the word out to his buddies, and eleven trucks were perusing the streets of northern El Paso County on the lookout. Joshua (Havilah’s twin) was at a friend’s home playing video games, and their entire family left to help find Havilah.
The deputy on duty checked two neighborhood parks on his way over to our house. I texted him a most recent photo of Havilah and I talked with him on the phone. “I’m here to check up on the runaway,” he said. “She is not a run-away,” I snapped, then proceeded to persuade him that none of this made sense. My debate techniques were on high alert.
By the time the officer arrived, I had hacked into Havilah’s email and read her most recent messages. Four emails that day — two to a friend from her martial arts class, two to the submissions director at an upcoming speech and debate tournament. Hardly a “run away.” I noticed the officer check the history of my browser, and I appreciated his suspicion. Clear me as a suspect as soon as possible, I thought. I let him see confirmation of everything I was telling him.
“This is serious,” I insisted, and I could see the officer knew I was right. He excused himself back to his car to call in drones and dogs. Search & Rescue would be there momentarily. It was now pitch dark, no moon, and the temperature had fallen into the teens.
This is where my family’s faith comes into play, where elements of the story fall into perfect place and it becomes much too coincidental to think Heaven was not at work. Our attempt to uncover every stone gave us the thought that perhaps Havilah walked all the way to GoodWill (how she loves to shop at Goodwill!). Isaiah volunteered to go, and he was off. We called him back to bring our younger son Zecharaiah — better to have two people go than one. Though it cost us a few minutes, at the time we thought it was worth it.
That few minutes to pick up Zech was just enough time for Havilah to cross our road, lost as she was, before venturing into another field in her attempt to find her way home. Isaiah and Zechariah nearly ran into her on the road she found, as she was dressed in jeans and a black hoodie. They were so glad to see each other!
Wendy was strong through the whole ordeal, never thinking for a moment that we wouldn’t find Havilah. But when Isaiah called to let us know that Havilah was found, she burst into tears. As did I. And the surrounding family around us saw us slump to the floor with Wendy’s cell phone, crying tears of exhaustion and thankfulness.
Have you gone through a scare like this? What started out as an innocent walk in our rural-residential neighborhood turned out to be a missing child for 4-1/2 hours. When the sun went down and the cold front moved in, our bones chilled and our simple day sobered. We so, so thankful everything turned out okay.
We are even more thankful for FAMILY. Drones and dogs would definitely have helped, but we had half of our children in cars driving all over Monument and surrounding county roads, multiplied by their friends and their trucks and cars. A squad of caring helpers were going door to door in search of our lost “little bird.” We literally had our own Search & Rescue operation within an hour of her discovered disappearance.
Family is so, so important. Wendy and I have been pioneers of sorts with the value of family, encouraging parents to welcome and love children. We are both looking forward to making a comeback on encouraging families. This world needs it!