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Tearful Petaluma remembers Polly Klaas

  • A large crowd at the Petaluma Community Center watch a film about Polly Klaas during the Polly Klaas Foundation's Evening of Commemoration & Hope on Friday, Oct. 4, 2013. (Conner Jay / PD)

Twenty years later, the emotions still run strong.

Speaker after speaker at Friday's commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Polly Klaas' kidnapping choked back tears in recalling the 64 long days and nights searching for the Petaluma 12-year-old abducted from her bedroom during a slumber party.

“Petaluma is a community that cares about its own,” said Jay Silverberg, a volunteer and later a board member of the Polly Klaas Foundation.

Polly Klass Foundation Commemoration

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His sentiments formed a thread that weaved throughout comments of other volunteer searchers, police, child advocates and everyday Petalumans who came Friday night to remember.

More than 350 people filled the Petaluma Community Center on Friday night, and more watched a simulcast at Walnut Park, to commemorate the date and acknowledge the hundreds of local volunteers and community leaders who gave of themselves 20 years ago in pursuit of a singular goal: “Find Polly.”

It is estimated that 4,000 volunteers helped search for Polly in October and November 1993 after she was kidnapped at knifepoint from the Fourth Street home she shared with her mother and little sister. Her body was found Dec. 4 in Cloverdale.

Air and ground searches covered 5,000 square miles. More than 60,000 tips were called in and 12,000 viable leads were followed.

In the first child abduction case in which the Internet was widely used, police estimate that Polly's image was shared 2 billion times worldwide. Fifty-four million hard copies of her missing poster were printed.

Donations totaled $250,000 in the first 30 days, rising to about $450,000 after two months.

Numbers can illustrate the enormous reach of Polly's case, but they only hint at the feelings it stirred — then and today.

“It quite possibly changed all of us,” Silverberg said.

Poignant images from 1993 lined the walls of the community center, photographs Julie Colt captured to document the search: candlelight ceremonies, handmade signs of support, searchers planning their day's path, intimate and painful images that convey the community's shared hope and concern.

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