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CONTENTS AUGUST 12, 2000

MIDSI SANCHEZ MISSING 8/12/00!

Click.  Mom:  "Please come home."

Click.  Volunteers comb Vallejo.

Click.  Highland Elementary Deals with Midsi's disappearance.


Mom: Please come home

By Bryan K. Pruitt © Vallejo Times-Herald staff writer 8/8/00

More than 24 hours into the search for missing Midsi Sanchez, police have no leads or clues as to what happened to the 8-year-old Vallejo girl who failed to arrive home from school Thursday afternoon.

Police Lt. JoAnn West said despite hours of door-to-door inquiries and a local informational roadblock in which officers contacted 150 vehicles, little more is known.

She said the Solano County police agencies involved are now in a search mode vs. a full investigative effort, although all incoming leads are being examined.

The FBI has also joined the search for the second young Vallejo girl to vanish in eight months.

"Right now our main objective is the search efforts to try to locate her just to make sure she hasn't fallen into some danger of some kind," West said.

"It's way too early in this type of an incident to make any assumptions or speculate what may have happened."

West said a 24-hour tip line dedicated to the search has thus far received more than 40 calls, resulting in no substantial leads.

Midsi was reported missing Thursday evening after she did not return home from Highland Elementary School, where she is in the third grade. She was last seen by her 10-year-old brother Ismael walking home about 3 p.m. near Arkansas and Shasta streets, West said.

When parents notified police about 5:40 p.m., authorities activated the city's automated phone system which transmits a recorded message to each residence. Within the first hours, every home and business in Vallejo was supposed to receive a call, West said. In addition, a full-scale door-to-door search of the area was mobilized which stretched into the following morning.

Friday, the search expanded from a 15-block area around the girl's 1807 Tennessee St. home to all of Vallejo. Bloodhounds led the way through backyards and areas of the city chosen by authorities for search.

"The dogs picked up a little bit of a track, but we haven't been able to confirm that with the other dogs," West said. "We're working around the clock on the case. We've assigned every detective to it and have patrol officers who are working overtime. Everyone is putting forth a full effort because everyone understands that the first 48 hours are very important in a case like this."

The dogs will likely be rested during the weekend to avoid tiring them, West said. She said they will then be used for more focused searching.

In a bizarre coincidence, 8-year-old Xiana Fairchild vanished from downtown Vallejo on Dec. 9, almost eight months to the day of Midsi's disappearance.

Although Xiana has not been found, the experience gained enhanced the ability for police to respond to the disappearance of Midsi.

"It may have gone a little smoother in the beginning," West said. "Certainly, we have some experience in doing this so it may have gone a little smoother early on as far as getting the search and rescue people coordinated. We also know how to do searches because we've done them before."

But the loss of the two young girls in the city has left some residents asking if a serial abductor could be prowling Vallejo streets.

"We don't have any evidence that that's the case here, but certainly we don't want to rule anything out either," West said. "We are leaving all possibilities open at this time."

Family members of Midsi Sanchez have canceled her birthday celebration scheduled for today (she turned 8 on Aug. 3). Entering her second full day of absence, time will instead be spent hoping for her safe return.

"She sings all the time," said sister Monica Velasco, 14, who added she had planned to sing for her birthday party. "She just, like, would turn up the radio and start singing. It was funny because she liked to watch herself in the mirror."

Susana Velasco, Midsi's mother, said she believes someone abducted her daughter. She pleaded to television audiences Friday afternoon for the girl's return.

"I ask the person who had taken my daughter ... I want the person to stop and think and look into their heart," she tearfully said. "If you've done anything to hurt Midsi, I don't care what you've done to her, just bring her back to me. I just want to see her again.

"Midsi, if you're watching, I love you. Please come home."

 


Volunteers comb streets for missing girl

By Amy Harter © Vallejo Times-Herald staff writer 8/12/00

The mood was serious Friday as volunteers searched for yet another missing girl, just eight months after the disappearance of Xiana Fairchild on Dec. 9.

Eight-year-old Midsi Sanchez was reported missing Thursday afternoon when she failed to return from school only nine blocks from her Tennessee Street home.

Late Thursday night, volunteers from the Xiana Fairchild Center divided into groups and went door-to-door looking for the girl.

"We went house to house and we woke people up at midnight and they let us search their backyards," said Stephanie Kahalekulu, Xiana's great-aunt who moved from Colorado to Vallejo to head up search efforts for her niece.

She vividly remembers the first night Xiana went missing.

It was a night when no one slept. Kahalekulu and other family members sat by the phone, jumping up every time it rang. At the Sanchez residence, she said it was like deja vu.

"I wasn't ready for this to happen," Kahalekulu said. "It was way too close to home."

The disappearance comes one day after the 8-month anniversary of Xiana's disappearance.

Some volunteers noted a resemblance between Midsi and Xiana. Both are 8-year-olds, born about 1-month apart. Both have brown eyes and long, brown hair. Both were discovered missing on a Thursday near school.

Despite such comparisons, police say they've found no evidence linking the two cases.

"We're going to try to bring these two (girls) home," said Patricia Clark, member of a weekly search team for Xiana and mother of five. "I don't know what I'd do if it was one of mine. This is so hard to believe because we've worked so hard to bring Xiana home ... and then this happens."

Tiffany, Clark's 12-year-old daughter, was one of two children who participated in Friday's search.

Yet another disappearance has Tiffany scared.

"I have cousins and nieces that are 4 and 5 years old," Tiffany said. "I'm afraid if it happens to them, I'll be crushed."

The search team consisted of about 20 volunteers who canvassed the downtown, talked to merchants and residents and asked retailers to post fliers in their shop windows.

They walked sections of Georgia, Virginia and Couch streets and Sonoma Boulevard.

"The (police) pretty much said the 1 mile out from her house has been saturated," Kahalekulu said. "They said to choose any area and (search) a 1-mile radius."

Because the first 24 hours after a disappearance are the most important, Kahalekulu said she went over the most important things to do, including notifying the California Highway Patrol and informing the community.

"I was thinking of all the critical things that have to be done on the first day," she said. "If anybody saw her, if anyone abducted her, they're moving her right now."

Organizing a community effort can take weeks, said Kahalekulu, who agreed to use the center for flier distribution.

She even suggested the city conduct a community search, which was done days after Xiana went missing.

Anyone interested in volunteering can stop by the center at 153 Plaza Dr., Ste. 102 across from Chevy's Mexican restaurant to pick up fliers.

"The center can be a pick-up and drop-off point," Kahalekulu said. "We have everything here, so why not help. We'll give (volunteers) an area to cover and try to get the word out as fast as we did for Xiana. This community has been very supportive throughout the Xiana search and we're hoping it will do the same for Midsi."


Highland Elementary deals with Midsi's disappearance

By Rachel Raskin-Zrihen © 2000 Vallejo Times-Herald staff writer 8/12/00

Highland Elementary School fourth-grader Tanya Miller turned to her mother after school Friday afternoon, and asked one stark question that surely echoed the secret thoughts of most Vallejoans.

"Do you think the same guy who took Xiana also took Midsi?" she inquired.

She was referring to the disappearance last December of then 7-year-old Xiana Fairchild, who vanished on her way to school.

This past Thursday afternoon, 8-year-old Midsi Sanchez disappeared on her way home from Highland, also in Vallejo.

The incident hit hard for the Highland third-grader's schoolmates and their parents. Friday was a time of deep concern; the disappearance was the main topic of discussion at school, as it surely must have been for some parents who kept their children home for the day.

Tanya said she "kinda knows" Midsi, and that some of her class time Friday was spent talking about her.

"They said you shouldn't walk home alone," Tanya said.

Lee Ann Brunner, Tanya's stepmother, was among many Highland parents who crowded the streets and sidewalks after school, making sure that their children did not walk home alone.

"Two in eight months," Brunner said. "It's too much."

The neighborhood surrounding Midsi's school was probably among the safest on earth Friday morning and afternoon. Dozens of police and emergency vehicles, law enforcement and school district personnel, concerned parents and volunteers congregated along the sidewalks, on street corners and at intersections.

Every car passing near the school was stopped and the driver handed a flier bearing the brief facts the missing girl.

Fourth-grader Maria Arechega's class also talked about Midsi on Friday.

"We talked about the kind of things that might have happened to her," Maria said of her friend, who has been described by schoolmates as "kinda nice and pretty and real quiet and fun."

"Midsi is nice and she plays a lot with me and my other friends. It scares me 'cause she's lost," Maria said.

Maria's mother Geneva said tearfully: "I ask the school not to let kids go home alone."

This incident has hit close to home for everyone in Vallejo, but it was especially frightening for those who know Midsi - children like Ciara Turner.

"I know her, she's my friend," said the Highland third-grader. "I feel bad and a little scared."

Ciara's mother, Sandy Turner, was more than just a little scared.

"It's pretty frightening," she said. "We were right here picking up our kids like we always do when it happened, and we didn't see a thing."

Added Vicky Scopeesi, a neighbor who volunteered to help direct traffic after school: "I'm just sick about it. I've been in this community all my life, and I still say it's the best city."

Assistant Superintendent Cliff Solari doesn't think this incident should have a negative effect on the public's perception of the Vallejo City Unified School District.

"The only connection to school in either of these cases is the fact that they involve school-age kids," Solari said.

And, in fact, Highland Principal Mary Soderberg said there had actually been new enrollment at the school on Friday.

Unfortunately, this is not the first terrible situation the staff, parents and students of Highland have had to deal with in recent years.

Highland is the same school that 8-year-old Emily Dion, who was fatally shot by an acquaintance of her mother in 1996, attended. It is also the school the children of Joseph Teitgen, the man accused of killing Vallejo police officer Jeff Azuar, attended. And now, it is the school where children are trying to cope with the disappearance Midsi Sanchez.

Soderberg said that a handful of children who were having trouble coping took advantage of the psychologists the district provided, as other students were interviewed by police.

Meanwhile, Vallejo City Unified School District officials were continuing their own efforts on Midsi's behalf.

"Calls were placed to every home of students in grades two through five," Solari said. "Then they found someone to make calls in Spanish, until we were asked to stop calling by the police, because they were calling, too.

"There are counselors on campus," he added. "We are providing help for (Midsi's) classmates and her teacher, Pam Ehler, and (Carole Whitrock) her teacher from last year. This is a police matter, now. We're taking care of our kids and they're taking care of the police stuff."

Some Highland parents reacted to the little girl's disappearance by keeping their children home from school Friday, while others settled for taking the extra precaution of walking their children to the schoolhouse door.

"There was an extra long drop-off period this morning," Solari said Friday, "and we'll have officers here to help with traffic this afternoon."

Highland's regular school bus stop will be moved, at least temporarily, from in front of the campus to the corner of Ensign and Mariposa streets. School district personnel will be escorting students to and from their buses, as well, Solari said.

"We're just going to do our best and keep kids calm and if anyone needs help, we're here," he said.

Several police officers, search and rescue personnel and concerned parents joined Interim Superintendent Pete Corona and other school personnel in clusters around the Highland campus before classes Friday. Midsi and the safety of Vallejo's students in general was essentially the only topic of talk.

"We won't sleep or rest until this is resolved," said Soderberg. "We're all being supportive of each other. Everyone wants to do anything and everything they can to help the children. We've had some tears. We've had a lot of parents bringing their kids into the school. We'll be allowing the children to express their feelings about this. They'll be making cards and writing letters."

Highland dismisses classes at 3:05 p.m. most days, but school officials were not notified that Midsi was missing until 5:10 p.m., following a visit there from the child's father, Soderberg said.

"That's when we started calling," Soderberg said.

Soderberg met with staff before the start of the school day Friday, to discuss various ways of dealing with children's questions and concerns.

And there were plenty of both.

"This is not a fun time," Solari said. "I think we learned a lot from last time (Xiana's disappearance). I think if you look at the mobilization that was in place by 10 p.m., you can see that.

"We are trying to tell our kids that school is a safe place. I don't think they're skeptical about school being safe. Parents are worried, and rightfully so."

Solari hasn't heard any parents saying they plan to pull their children from the school, though "they're really aware that this is the second time something like this has happened. But I want to say that we are still hopeful that Midsi is safe - that she's with someone and is safe."