When my daughter disappeared 36 years ago, her kindergarten class was traumatized. They refused to accept their teacher's statement that nobody knew what had happened to Anna.
"But where is she?" they asked. "Is she dead?"
"We don't know," the teacher answered. This teacher, fair-haired, dimpled, brilliant, was one of Anna's favorite people in all the world.
"I don't want to disappear," one student said. "I want to grow up."
"Anna will grow up," the teacher said. "If she doesn't grow up on earth, she will grow up in heaven."
For years, I would look at children the age Anna would have been and wonder what she would look like at that time. Once in a while I would see one of her kindergarten classmates and notice that they had lost their baby teeth, that they were getting taller.
Then about 18 years ago, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children began its program of producing age-progressed pictures of missing children. They would write and ask for family pictures. Using kindergarten pictures along with pictures of family members at various ages, they would come up with their idea of what Anna would look like at age 23, 27, 31.
I found it difficult to look at these pictures, though as forensic software became more sophisticated, the pictures began to look more like a real person. Once I gathered up courage and made pencil changes to one of the portraits to see how she might look with glasses or short hair.
Then Steve Loftin, a retired police officer and forensic artist at the National Center, produced a picture of Anna at the age of 38 and sent it to me, asking what I thought. The face thinner, I said; the forehead higher. When the picture was finished, I knew that if she had grown up in this world, that was what she would look like.
Steve also did an age-regressed picture, one which might have appeared in a high school annual, and I thought "Yes, that's what she might have looked like."
We may never know what happened to Anna, even though her case is still open and is officially considered a "probable non-family abduction". But because of an incredibly vigorous search, my idea of my daughter is no longer stuck in kindergarten. A Google search on her name brings up thousands of hits. She has a Facebook page and at least two MySpace pages which play her favorite song. She is a featured case on Websleuths, a community of 17,000 amateur detectives. The International Center for Missing and Exploited Children runs a video about her. She has a website, www.searchingforanna.com, and a book by the same name which is distributed on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
It's not exactly growing up in heaven, but at least thousands of people have become acquainted with this happy child.