Loved ones lost
Other families know pain felt by Natalee Holloway's relatives
By ANDREW NELSON
Beth Lowery and her common-law husband, Kevin Thompson, both 35, were watching television late one night. They were tuned in to the coverage of the Natalee Holloway case.
It is a story they follow regularly. Their daughter, Heaven LaShae Ross, disappeared on her way to school in August 2003.
On the screen Beth Holloway Twitty was in Aruba declaring she would not return home without her daughter.
Thompson turned to Lowery and said: "I wouldn't leave, either."
More than 40 days after Natalee Holloway, 18, disappeared during a trip to Aruba with classmates following her graduation from Mountain Brook High School, the case appears heartbreakingly stalled.
Two of the three young men implicated in her disappearance have been released. The island and the waters around Aruba have been scoured. But if any trace of Natalee Holloway has been found, the news has not been passed on to the public.
According to The Associated Press, members of a volunteer underwater search team from Florida State University left the island Tuesday. And Texas EquuSearch, an organization that has spent three weeks combing the island for Holloway, announced it would go home Sunday.
Nonetheless, those who have had highly publicized but so far unsuccessful searches for their missing children say Holloway Twitty and her family should stay in Aruba as long as they can push the investigation forward and as long as they can stand to be on the island.
"There is just so much going on with that case right there," said Lowery, of Northport. "I don't fault her. I don't." David Smith, 71, whose daughter Carrie Lawson was kidnapped Sept. 11, 1991, in Jasper, agreed.
"I think they are doing the right thing, personally, and I think that keeps everybody's interest up," said Smith, of Cleveland, Tenn.
Search parties combed the area around Jasper for several weeks, but Lawson's body was never found. Jerry Bland, suspected of kidnapping Lawson from her Jasper home, killed himself Oct. 1, 1991. Karen McPherson of Cullman, a distant cousin of Bland, was later sentenced to life in prison for her role in the kidnapping.
Attempts to reach Holloway Twitty in Aruba on Tuesday were not successful.
Jerome Rosenberg, a professor of psychology at the University of Alabama, said if Holloway Twitty leaves Aruba without finding her daughter, it would be admitting to herself there will never be a conclusion to her daughter's disappearance.
"Right now I think she's postponing it," he said. "And I think she has every right to."
Amy Bradley of Chesterfield, Va., disappeared on the island of Curacao while on a cruise on March 24, 1998. She was 23 at the time. Her father, Ron Bradley, said he would have searched the Caribbean island, which is near Aruba, as long as the Twittys and Holloways have, if he had the money.
"Probably the hardest thing our family had to do was leave Curacao when that's where my daughter disappeared," said Bradley, a Virginia resident. "It's a very empty feeling coming back home because you couldn't get any help from anybody."
It was that or sit in a hotel room, he said.
"I wish them the best, but I certainly don't think that a whole lot is going to change," Bradley said about the family in Aruba.
And because the case appears, if not stalled, at least grinding along slowly, it raises the question: When does Natalee Holloway's family come home? For one thing, returning to Alabama does not necessarily mean ending the search.
Bradley and his wife, Iva Bradley, have put up a Web site and brought their daughter's case to the attention of national TV shows and magazines over the years. Smith and his wife, Harriett Smith, have spent more than $1 million investigating Carrie Lawson's kidnapping.
"Harriett and I stayed in Jasper for three months," Smith said. "We left here one night in the middle of the night, and she (Harriett Smith) didn't come home at all. I had to come home a couple of times."
Smith said he didn't know and would not presume to tell Holloway's family when it was time for them to return to Alabama. But after searching in Jasper for months, they decided they should return to Tennessee.
"Finally, the authorities kind of gave up. Of course, we never gave up," he said. "I still have a private investigator working on it."
Smith too, is following the Holloway case.
"It looks like it's going to be another dead end," he said. "It's sort of like Jasper, Ala., was. There's just too many places to hide (a person on the island). ... I've been to Aruba before, and it's like being on the other side of the moon up on the north side. Big holes. The ocean's kind of treacherous."
Lowery, the mother of Heaven LaShae Ross, whom she calls "Shae," said Holloway's family will have to return home eventually.
"If Natalee is not found, and this is just my personal opinion, within the next few weeks, you are going to have to sit down and weigh your options and consider how long you are going to be able to stay there," she said. "You are not trying to go there and make that your home.
"You're going to have to come back to your home here. You are going to have to come back to your job. You are going to have to come back to your life."
When her daughter disappeared, Lowery missed two months of work at her job as a diet technician at the Partlow Developmental Center in nearby Tuscaloosa.
"I didn't leave the home for the first three weeks," she said. "I didn't leave my yard at all."
Once she was able to leave her home, she spent the next five weeks or so trying to find her 11-year-old daughter. Eventually the volunteer center closed.
There were no more searches. No more tips.
She went back to work, but spent much of her time there crying. She took a week off around the six-month anniversary of Shae's disappearance, and decided she could not return.
But she couldn't stay away from work forever.
"I've got to get back into life now, because I'm literally wasting myself away," she recalled thinking at the time.
Late last year, Lowery took a job counting merchandise in stores and truck stops. She makes more money, and it keeps her mind off her missing daughter while she is at work.
She has a lot of respect for Beth Holloway Twitty and wants to meet her when she returns to Alabama. She particularly admires the dignity and restraint she exhibited when she met Paul van der Sloot, the father of the suspect.
"If it would have been me and I would have knocked on the suspect's door to give them a prayer card, I would have got thrown in jail," she said. "I think she is a superbly strong woman. That took a lot of courage."
Lowery said she thinks Holloway Twitty may have a psychological breakdown, much like she did. For Lowery, the breakdown occurred when she realized that after six months, no one could tell her where her youngest daughter was.
"It was real bad," she said. "I thought that was going to put me back in the hospital."
If Holloway Twitty experiences such a breakdown, she needs to be at home, not on an island far away, Lowery said.
"She's going to break just like I broke," Lowery said. "She needs to be home when she breaks. A person's body and mind can only take so much of a traumatic event. ... You don't have any say in it. Your body just lets you know."
Joshua Klapow, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said whether Holloway Twitty has a breakdown depends on how one defines the word.
"It's not necessarily the case that she's going to have a single episode or event that's going to render her incapacitated," he said. "The more social support she has and the more she is able to maintain her physical health, the better she will fare in the long haul." http://www.postherald.com/me071305.shtml