April was cold that year and the day was overcast, cooling the silver light to shadow even before its rays fell upon the ground. The desert, normally alive in the warm spring air, was still and somber. Waiting, it seemed, for the world to take its next breath.
She stood in the grass, its brilliant green muted in the gloom, and she pleaded with her mother and father to understand. Countless hours of photographs and makeup and cattle calls had led to this chance to pursue her dream beyond the borders of Las Vegas. Seeing their faces in the audience of fashion reporters, magazine photographers and modeling agents would make her nervous.
She smiled, one dimple appearing and vanishing like a fleeting thought, and swept a stray tendril of long golden brown hair from her face. Seventeen Magazine would make certain she was protected. She would be careful; she wasn’t a child any longer. They could rely on her good judgment to bring her home, safe and sound. She was 18 years old. They had to let her grow up. It was time.
On April Fool’s Day, 1984, her mother and father reminded her to be careful, wished her good luck, and waved as she drove from the quiet suburbs into the raucous city. They would not be there to watch.
But he was there. Watching. Smiling. Plotting.
He met them after the show, paying particular attention to four or five of the models. She, and a few of the other girls, agreed to meet him in front of Caesar’s Palace. She must have been the first to arrive, because the other girls waited for an hour before deciding to abandon this particular quest for fame. They returned to their homes, safe and sound.
He was a photographer. He wanted to hire them. He could make them famous.
He was a liar.
Her mother and father waited late into the dark night and into the early hours of a new day. Before the pale, morning sun had crested the horizon, frantic phone calls were placed. They spoke with friends, teachers, and her boyfriend. All of whom had made the promise as well. She had not been seen.
Her friends and family waited, helpless and impotent in the face of a fear they could not, would not, force themselves to name. One day passed, then two, and their surreal terror and heartbreaking sorrow was barely held in check by thin bonds of hope.
Three days passed, and a brown Camaro was found parked in a dark, secluded area of the McCarran International Airport parking garage. The Nevada plates read, “TOMISH”. Her father had put those plates on himself, before she was handed the keys on her sixteenth birthday, just over a year earlier.
He was placed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list.
Days and days of searching, the lonely desert ringing with the echoes of her name, called endlessly, yielded no prize. She was strong, and smart. She would hold on until help arrived.
Thirteen long days were gone when he was shot by the FBI near a small gas station in New Hampshire; cardiac obliteration.
Still they sought her, in dark caves and by overgrown trails, near muddy shoreline and rocky ditches, in overloaded landfills and salty swamps. They struggled against biting wind and through slicing rain to find her. They each carried a blanket and water; she would be cold and dehydrated when they found her. The offer of help from Psychics was accepted; she was under something blue, she was thirsty.
Weeks turned to months. Mother’s Day. Her Graduation. Father’s Day.
She was found in a ditch, near a Rest Area sign in the Angeles Forest of California. Badly, badly beaten, she appeared to be dead when he left her there, face down and naked. Too weak to raise her head from the soil, she suffocated and died, alone and cold.
Sixteen weeks later, they buried her.
There is an empty wound that stays with each of them; cardiac obliteration.