Thousands of kids still not reunited

Faces of missing, separated posted online

Katrina's Wake

September 19, 2005|By Deanna Boyd

BATON ROUGE, LA. -- It was a last-minute decision that Laila Brown now regrets.

The 34-year-old woman had planned to take her youngest daughter, Dion Rochelle Ridley, with her to the New Orleans Convention Center to ride out Hurricane Katrina.

But when she called the girl's nanny the night of Aug. 28, Dion, 6, was already tucked in bed asleep. Believing that the approaching storm was not really a big threat, Brown agreed to let her daughter stay one more night.

"If I would have known it would have been this bad, I wouldn't have ever left my baby," Brown said. "I know Ms. Beatrice is a good woman and that she's going to take good care of my baby, but I'm worried now because I haven't talked to them in three weeks."

She's not alone.

More than 2,000 children from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are still missing or separated from at least one parent or other caregiver, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which is maintaining a database of the missing.

"Each of us who have children know what it's like to lose your child for a minute in a department store, so we can imagine what these families are feeling and what they're thinking if they've been separated from their children for the last week or so," first lady Laura Bush said during a visit to the center's Alexandria, Va., headquarters Friday.

Photographs of dozens of missing children are posted on www.missingkids.com, the nonprofit organization's Web site.

Also pictured are children who have been found safe, largely in shelters, but who are looking for their parents or caregivers.

Information on some children can be sparse. Some are listed by only their first names. Other photographs are simply titled "unknown female" or "unknown male."

Some of the children became separated from their parents during rescue efforts.

Other children rode out the storm and flooding with their parents, only to become separated during the evacuation.

"We've got scenarios in which parents were making actual gut-wrenching decisions to hand their child up to the front of a line of transport to get them safe," said Nancy McBride, national safety director with the center. "Parents performed heroic acts to try and keep their children safe, sometimes to the detriment of their own safety."

Sometimes there are happy endings.

Yesterday, 22 days after James Bailey last laid eyes on his son, Alex Davis, he got the phone call he had been desperately praying for.

Alex, 8, was safe and with his mother at the Baton Rouge home of one of her relatives. The boy's maternal aunt had spotted his picture on CNN and alerted the national center that the child was fine.

Within 15 minutes of hearing the news, Bailey was talking to his son on the phone.

"His first words were `How's my games?'" said Bailey, laughing for the first time in weeks.

Deanna Boyd writes for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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