Lately, there’s a song that has captured Melissa Baum’s attention. She says it’s like Carrie Underwood plucked “See You Again” from her mind, and it makes her think of her daughter, Lindsey, who has been missing four years as of Wednesday.
“I’ll see you again/This is not where it ends/I will carry you with me/Till I see you again,” Underwood sings.
“There’s something about that song,” Baum said.
Maybe it’s a mother’s unrelenting faith that, someday, her daughter will come home. Baum said since June 26, 2009, when Lindsey disappeared while walking home from a friend’s house in McCleary, she’s “never wavered” from her “100 percent” certainty that someday her daughter will be found alive.
For the fourth anniversary of Lindsey’s disappearance, and just shy of her 15th birthday July 7, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children created an age progression photo showing what she might look like today.
The first draft of the photo didn’t look much like what her family imagined, Sheriff Rick Scott said. After the Center volunteered the image, Scott connected them with the Baum family, which helped to create the final version released Wednesday.
“When I saw it I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s what I would have imagined her to look like at this point in her life.’ I thought it was a very good resemblance of her as a young teenager,” Scott said.
“It’s with mixed emotions that we do this. There’s not a lot of historical data that would support age-progressed photos being useful in finding missing children, but it is another tool with which we generate information or interest in the case,” he said.
Tips are still coming in, Scott said, but “It’s a trickle, not a flood.”
The photo may generate false leads, but Scott said at this point in the investigation, renewing public interest is a good thing overall. Hopefully, it will be the little push someone needs to come forward with a lead that person may not even realize was important.
“We want to talk to you. If you’ve never been talked to and you were in McCleary, please contact us so we can talk to you and maybe find out something that may be extremely important to our investigation,” he said.
As much as anything, Scott hopes the photo will send a specific message.
“Whoever did this, the person responsible: We have not forgotten. We will not give up this investigation until we find her and bring her home. Whoever did this, if you think that it’s over, you’re wrong.”
Baum said she understands the photo is only one guess at what her daughter might look like, but for the first time, Lindsey isn’t frozen in her mind as the 10-year-old she was when she disappeared.
“It just makes me realize how much time I’ve missed with her. She’s not a little girl any more, she’s a young woman now. How much she’s missed — sixth grade graduation, eighth grade graduation, freshman year of high school. When I was growing up those were the best years of my life,” she said.
On her hopes for what the photo will accomplish, Baum said, “Somebody knows something. Somebody has suspicions. I’m just begging them to come forward.”
Last February, there was new interest in the case when police identified a local jewelry store owner as a person of interest after surveillance video was released showing him in a McCleary convenience store the night Lindsey disappeared. He had previously told investigators he was not in the city that night.
No suspect has been named in the case, but there have been numerous persons of interest.
“No one who was a person of interest has been 100 percent cleared, because we don’t have that one piece of evidence to prove exactly what happened to her,” Scott said.
Two women appearing in the footage were also located and interviewed by police.
“Everybody gives us information that’s helpful, because sometimes it’s good to prove the negative, so we can take that off the table,” Scott said.
“Sadly, there’s been no major break in the case. It remains an active investigation, both our office and the FBI remain committed to the investigation and finding Lindsey and bringing her home. Having said that, the success of the investigation is going to be based on the information that we’re able to develop from the public, and through the painstaking process of looking through the data that’s been collected thus far,” he added.
Keeping hope alive
Kidnapping victims that have been away months, years and decades renew Baum’s hope and make Lindsey feel just a little bit closer. Elizabeth Smart, Jaycee Dugard, and most recently, the three women rescued in Cleveland. The case of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight is particularly comforting, because although she had been captive for years, Berry still managed to escape and understood people were looking for her.
Baum said it gives her comfort against one of her long-term fears: That Lindsey suffers from Stockholm syndrome or has been brainwashed somehow.
“Does she even remember? Does she think I don’t love her?” Baum wondered.
As a veteran law enforcement officer, Scott knows the odds aren’t good that Lindsey will come home alive. But he’s also heartened by those cases.
“There’s the part of you that thinks about this with your head and there’s a part of you that thinks about it with your heart,” he said. “You see these cases and they give you the hope that this is how our case is going to end as well. Because we don’t have any evidence to the contrary. … Failing that, you’ve got to have hope.”
Baum remembers a good student and “social butterfly” who made friends easily. If she were still with her mother, Baum imagines she’d still love school and probably play a high-energy sport like soccer or track.
“She’s a very active little girl. Lots of energy. Never shuts up,” Baum said, laughing through tears. “From the minute she wakes up to the minute she goes to sleep at night. Now the quiet is deafening.”
“I think a long time ago, this became personal,” Scott said. “There’s virtually not a week that goes by that we don’t have a very serious conversation about the theory of the case and the possibilities and looking back at things that we’ve done or things we might want to consider doing or advances in technology. I carry a picture of her on my key ring. So every time I go to get in my car, I look at her.
“It’s just one of those things that’s so personal, sometimes it’s hard to focus on other things, especially this time of year. You look back at that summer of 2009, and literally we all lived this case non-stop for that entire year. From the night of her disappearance, we were having to send people home just to take time off, nobody wanted to quit. I worked 45 days straight with no time off, because you wanted to be a part of bringing her home.”
If she could give Lindsey a message, Baum said, it would be: “I will never give up. Ever. And I don’t want her to either.”
And to her kidnapper, or kidnappers:
“I’m not going away,” Baum said. “They can just let her go. Either way. If she’s alive or not, I need to know where my daughter is. I will never have peace again until I know where my daughter is.”
A $35,000 reward is still available for information leading to Lindsey’s recovery and the arrest and charges for whoever is responsible. Anyone with information should call 1-866-915-8299 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.findlindseybaum.com.