Thursday, June 09, 2005

Final Stop: Aruba

We are about 10 days into the coverage of the missing U.S. teen in Aruba. It probably doesn't need to be stated, but I am feeling a terrible sympathy for the parents, and a fervent desire to never be anywhere close to trembling in their shoes. Stories like this set me off into paroxysms of Safety Rage. It was a celebratory trip by an Alabama high school class. On the last night before they were to leave Aruba, 18-year-old honor student Natalee Holloway never returned to her hotel room. Her disapperance prompted an island-wide search and a cavalcade of media coverage. Personal aside: Were these rich kids? Has U.S. society gotten so wealthy that a senior trip to an exotic location like Aruba is now the norm? Just wondering! Because my first trip to Florida came when I was 25. We spent our childhoods vacationing at Letchworth State Park in unheated cabins with no showers or hot water. My senior trip in high school consisted of a short drive to a friend's house in South Buffalo. My senior trip in college was to the Jersey Shore. I'm certainly not laying claim to a deprived childhood, just a normal one. And I am truly thankful that I was deprived of the opportunity to be kidnapped and possibly murdered while on a Caribbean island vacation. It seems breathtakingly horrible that a trip designed to reward four years of hard adademic work and an imminent diploma instead became a tragedy. Natalee Holloway was headed to the University of Alabama on a full scholarship with a major in pre-med. Instead she may be the victim of a premeditated crime. While the media coverage has maintained its laserlike focus on "the suspects," I of course am obsessed with how she got herself into such a dangerous situation in the first place. Somehow in the wee hours of the morning of May 3oth Natalee Holloway's senior class trip may have instead become her Farewell Tour. Five men are being held in connection with her disappearance. Three claimed to have given her a ride home from Carlos 'n Charlie's Bar, in the island nation's capital of Oranjestad. They said they dropped her off at her hotel. LIARS. Holiday Inn hotel cameras don't show any evidence of her returning on the night in question. Two other men, security guards for a nearby hotel undergoing renovation, have had their houses and cars searched by authorities for reasons not yet explained to the public. WHAT was this high school senior doing with a bunch of local men the night before she was to leave Aruba? Would anyone with even a dusting of common sense accept a ride from strange men, much less THREE of them in a foreign country? Unless she was drugged and carried out bodily, it makes no sense to me. There have been a lot of reports from her friends about what a great person she was. Fine! Doesn't being "a great person" qualify you for having at least one friend who won't leave you at a bar by yourself with strange local men? Haven't any of these American kids heard of The Buddy System? The rules for safety don't change just because you've grown up and your playground now includes palm trees and frosty drinks. Apparently there were adult chaperones along on the trip, although the kids flew to Aruba on a commercial airline, and the adults apparently winged it on a private jet. Which begs the question, were they acting as chaperones? Let's just say that at a minimum there was no chaperonage occurring on the flight. Did any of the adults go to the bar just to ensure all the kids made it back safely? Were the adults there for the kids' sake? Why am I asking ridiculous questions when I suspect the answers are No, No and No! Where was the chaperoning occurring -- at the beach? Waiting for someone to choke on lunch? Ensuring no one endangered the plants in the hotel lobby? ATTENTION CHAPERONES! We need you to report to the dangerous bar area. Please. Right now. It seems the final head count for the kids was done the following morning when Natalee Holloway didn't show up for her flight. Timely. You can't protect your kids from every danger. Inevitably some of them will hang from balconies by their toes or sustain life-altering sunburns. But after a couple of decades of horrible stories like this, you'd think parents would at a minimum be telling their kids not to accept rides from strangers. (Stranger: Someone you've known less than a month and know nothing about.) It's like getting into a car with someone wearing a vest packed with explosives. You should be surprised if you exit the vehicle with all your body parts intact. These days you have to regard human strangers as little more than a coterie of exotic animals. You don't know if the person you're sitting next to will turn out to be a toucan, monkey or man-eating tiger. So how do you arm your children to know which animal they may be encountering on any given day? Simple. You assume the man-eating tiger and act accordingly. Would you get in a car with a tiger peering out of the back seat? Apparently Natalee Holloway accepted a ride from three tigers. She didn't stand a chance.

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