By Tommi Halvorsen Gatlin
For The Vidette
At 71, my memory’s still passable, though factoids don’t always stick. Nevertheless, June 26, 2009, is a date I’m likely never to forget.
Ten-year-old Lindsey Baum of McCleary vanished that day in “Small Town America,” as some described her East Grays Harbor hometown then, population about 1,500. Until retiring from The Vidette in 2013, I was assigned to cover the ongoing accounts of the massive, and seemingly endless, search for Lindsey.
Toting a camera and small recorder, I also took copious notes while talking with family members, friends, authorities leading the search and countless other folks.
The tragic news last week that Lindsey’s remains had been found in a remote area in Eastern Washington has brought back memories of the time when hope was still alive.
Here are six moments I recall almost as vivid snapshots:
• Lindsey’s mom, Melissa Baum, doing whatever it took and going wherever needed to seek any help/information that might lead to bringing her little girl home…
As a mother of five, I still can’t imagine the agony she must have endured — and is still suffering as a result of learning, shortly before Mother’s Day, that her daughter wouldn’t be coming home alive.
• Lindsey’s father, Scott Baum, clutching a flier of her in a press conference at a picnic table in McCleary’s Beerbower Park, pleading whoever could to “please, bring my daughter home”…
He and Melissa had divorced, and the Tennessee National Guardsman hadn’t seen Lindsey in more than a year. He said he was “fixin’ to deploy to Iraq, and tomorrow is her birthday. I would love nothing more than to see my daughter before I have to go.”
• Hundreds attending an emotional candlelight prayer vigil in the park, some writing messages with markers on brown paper four evenings after Lindsey vanished…
“Come back soon. Hopes & dreams,” a girl wrote. And, “We love & miss you,” from Elma Girl Scouts Troop 4078.
Lindsey’s 12-year-old brother, Josh, his face shadowed with unspoken emotion, held a lighted candle at the vigil while, with his permission, I snapped his picture. A sibling spat he and Lindsey had shortly before she disappeared may also have been on his mind.
All were invited to speak or pray at home plate on the park’s baseball diamond. “I’m sad,” Josh prayed. “But I want you guys to find my sister. Amen.”
Afterward, carrying their candles, the group filed somberly out of the park and up the street behind the police department to the home of the girl they’d just prayed for. They brought a handmade wooden plaque that said, “HOPE,” for Mrs. Baum, who’d remained home in case the phone rang with news about — or from — Lindsey. Having arrived, they raised their voices together to tell her mother, “We love you, Melissa.”
• The family of Michaela Kampen, Lindsey’s close friend, struggling with what might have been had the girls been granted a request moments before Lindsey left their home for hers…
After a hot Friday spent swimming elsewhere with friends, the two girls beseeched Michaela’s mom, Kara Kampen, and Scott Williams, with whom she lived, to allow Lindsey to spend the night. But they’d had children over recently and “decided no kids this weekend,” Williams said.
“It’s going to be dark soon; see that you get home before it gets dark,” he said he’d told Lindsey around 9 p.m. She headed toward home several blocks away — but never arrived. And though they couldn’t have known what was about to happen, the two adults later wished they’d allowed the sleepover.
“You don’t want to be the last one to see a child,” Williams said.
McCleary overflowing with good folks, professionals and volunteers alike, most of whom had never known Lindsey but were anxious to do whatever they could to help find her…
Some brought search dogs, others brought food and water for those looking for any sign of the missing brown-haired, brown-eyed girl who’d left her fifth-grade McCleary School classroom just days earlier for summer break.
Still others, such as Pfc. Adam Golder, an Army Reservist not on active duty, passed out fliers with Lindsey’s picture to motorists approaching the stop sign near the police department. “Do you know anyone else you could give some to?” he asked them. He’d heard about the “young girl and wanted to help out,” Golder said. “It really hurts to hear about this.”
• An enormous task force from law enforcement agencies near and far, and myriad others, searching for someone desperately needing to be found…
Besides the Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Office, FBI and other law enforcement, the massive effort included scores of search and rescue personnel, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, aircraft, detectives from multiple counties and more.
I clearly recall then-Undersheriff (now Sheriff) Rick Scott’s sunburned face as he and myriad others labored day after blistering, weary, frustrating day to find Lindsey.
That it didn’t happen isn’t the fault of those who worked so hard and contributed so much. Moreover, these “snapshots” are just a few examples of countless more.
Now a kidnapping/homicide investigation, the case still cries out to be solved. Please do the right thing — anyone with information, no matter how seemingly small, is asked to call (360) 964-1799 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tommi Halvorsen Gatlin is a retired reporter of The Vidette. She contributes a monthly column. She can be reached by emailing email@example.com.