The failure of the “stranger danger” rule – Adrian Gonzalez, suspect in Madyson Middleton’s death was “a nice kid”

Update, July 29, 12:54 p.m. PST : The 15-year-old suspect accused of sexually assaulting and and killing Madyson Middleton has been identified as Adrian Jerry Gonzalez. Gonzalez will be charged as an adult. The charges include “one count of murder that includes special circumstances of lying in wait, kidnap and sexual assault, and other counts related to sexual offenses and kidnapping,” according to NBC Bay Area.

One of the main pieces of advice parents give children from a very early age is “Don’t talk to strangers.” We also tell them more specific things, like, “If a stranger asks you to help him find his puppy, run away,” or, “If a stranger picks you up, yell and scream.” The operative word, so often, is stranger, because it’s very clear and obvious to parents than any stranger who tries to lure your child away should be avoided at all costs.

It’s more difficult to explain to a child that even people you know and trust can pose a threat. In fact, it’s something many parents don’t say, because the idea is so reprehensible. We don’t want to believe that the nice kid next door or the nice check-out guy or the friendly camp counselor could be a predator. And, of course, we want our children to be happy, and we don’t want them to live in fear that someone they know might hurt them. But the arrest today of a suspect in Madyson Middleton’s death had nothing to do with strangers, or with any of the transients and drug addicts who are known to linger near the apartment complex where Maddy went missing.  The suspect, a 15 year old yo-yo enthusiast whom Madyson Middleton knew and, according to police, probably trusted, allegedly lured Maddy into his apartment, where he sexually assaulted and strangled her. The suspect’s identity is a stark reminder that danger to children doesn’t usually come from strangers. While those cases do of course exist, often with terrifying outcomes–as in the cases of Jaycee Dugard, Elizabeth Smart, and Michaela Joy Garecht–more often, when children are abducted, assaulted, or killed, the perpetrator is a friend or acquaintance.

Arrest of teenaged suspect in the murder of Madyson Middleton. Photo via KSBW News

The suspect lives in Madyson’s apartment complex, the Tannery Arts Center. The suspect’s own instagram feed is populated with photos and videos of him yo-yoing, joking around and skateboarding with his friends (including girls his own age), and a variety of nature and urban shots taken around Santa Cruz and Northern California. All in all, he seems like “a regular kid,” just as he was described in news articles by several friends and neighbors, including Kirby Scudder, a resident of the Arts Center who was dating the victim’s mother, Laura Jordan.

While his posts are sometimes melancholic, there is nothing in them that seems out of the ordinary for a teenager. Two days ago, he posted a video himself playing the piano, with the words, “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had,” lyrics from the song Mad World.) Lyrics which wouldn’t be alarming, were it not for the fact that he posted them on Sunday, the day that Madyson was murdered. According to SFGate, who cites an unnamed source, “the boy told police that he had been contemplating suicide and that he had killed the girl to see how people would react.” The same source “said surveillance video showed the teenager placing Madyson’s body into the bin several minutes before her mother, Laura Jordan, called police at 6:08 p.m. Sunday.”

Even though he seemed like “a regular kid,” for adults paying attention, there might have been warning signs, such as this caption on an ordinary Instagram selfie (below) taken on a city street: “Wears all black to try and look powerful and hide the crippling anxiety. Towards the future and the constant worry that i’ll never find someone who loves me.”

Adrian Gonzalez

Gonzalez also recently posted a photo of Nid Vizzini’s semi-autobiographical YA book, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” opened to Chapter 15. (Although the book’s title isn’t visible, a search of the opening lines of text led to an excerpt from Chapter 15 of It’s Kind of a Funny Story.

Adrian Gonzalez reading - It's Kind of a Funny Story

Vizzini committed suicide in 2013. ) The book is about a teen’s battle with depression. According to Today,

“It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” recounts how a 15-year-old landed in a mental facility after repeatedly attempting suicide.

In light of the horrific assault on Maddy, one has to wonder if Gonzalez was expecting his Instagram account to be studied after his arrest, and if he wanted to create a narrative about his depression as a kind of defense or rationalization of the act he was going to commit. Because, in the end, of course, he didn’t choose suicide. Instead, he chose to take the life of an 8-year-old girl. And he didn’t seem to attempt to evade arrest. He hid the body in his own apartment complex, and he hung around the dumpster while police were searching, repeatedly asking about the status of the search. Is it possible that he wanted to be caught? Part of the text that the book was open to in the Instagram photo reads as follows:

I’m young, but I’m already screwing up my life. I’m smart but not enough—just smart enough to have problems. Not smart enough to get good grades. Not smart enough to have a girlfriend. Girls think I’m weird. I don’t like to spend money. Every time I spend it, I feel as if I’m being raped.

In another photograph posted on Instagram just one week before Maddy’s murder, by an artist who was doing a demonstration for children at the center, the suspect poses for a demo on how to draw caricatures. One can’t help but wonder if Maddy was among the children watching the demonstration that day. (Note: I found this photo by doing an instagram search for Tannery Arts Center, and the boy in the photo looks very much like Instagram user AwkwardYoYoer. No one is identified in the photo, so while it looks like a clear match to me, I can’t be 100% certain).

While cases that garner the most media attention tend to be stranger abductions, and while those do, of course, happen, the vast majority of crimes against children are committed by people they know. In this case, telling Madison to stay away from the transients who lurk in the alley behind the Tannery Arts Center would have done no good. And while the mother was quickly called into question for not being with her at the time of her disappearance, and her judgment might certainly be lacking, it turns out that keeping a closer eye on the child may not have saved her in this case. Of course, if she were never alone, no one could have taken her. But this was a child who, according to police, willing went into the suspect’s apartment, where he raped and murdered her. Given the nature of the apartment complex and the sense of “community” that was apparently shared by many of the residents, if the suspect was intent on harming a child, he probably would have done so sooner or later. Tannery Arts Center, from the website and the photos and the ordinary instagram feeds of its ordinary residents, looks like a happy place. A place where kids paint and dance and skateboard and hang out together. A place where you know your neighbors. A place where, despite the seediness of the streets outside, a family can feel safe. In this photo from the center’s Instagram feed, you can see kids doing art. Other photos show folks dancing together, eating, having a good time, kids writing bad teenage poetry–just as teenagers are supposed to do. It looks pretty much idyllic.

A photo posted by Matt Bachtel (@doom_squirrel) on

So how do parents protect children from predators? What could have been done differently? A hard-and-fast rule, such as “NEVER go into anyone’s apartment without my permission,” might have helped. However, in a situation in which the child feels so comfortable, when the alleged perpetrator is a kid himself, someone she knows as a fun, nice kid who does yo-yo tricks, someone who is known and liked in her community–even that rule might have been disregarded by a child in a moment of weakness or forgetfulness.

Perhaps a buddy system could help. Even so, in a heartbreaking case like this, one thing we need to ask ourselves is how we are identifying troubled teens. How do we notice the ones who are capable of committing such a crime? What are the warning signs? If we can’t allow children to trust other, older kids in their own tight-knit community, how are we to make them feel safe?

Read the full reporting on the Madyson Middleton case in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

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Michaela Joy Garecht – still missing

Michaela Joy Garecht was kidnapped in Hayward, CA 26 years ago today–on November 19, 1988. She was nine years old. Her mother, Sharon Murch, is still searching for answers.Please share this age progression photo of Michaela & the composite of her suspected kidnapper. If you lived in or near Hayward at the time, please look closely at the photos. It is never too late to find answers.

Michaela Joy Garecht Age Progression (2012)   Michaela Joy Garecht, age 9   Suspect in the kidnapping of Michaela Joy Garecht

Location of kidnapping: the corner of Mission Boulevard and Lafayette in Hayward, CA. At that time it was called Rainbow Market. Today it is Mexico Super. Please share this age progression photo of Michaela and the composite of her suspected kidnapper.

Details (from the website Missing Michaela): “Witnesses described Michaela’s kidnapper as a man in his 20’s, with long, dirty-blonde hair. His most outstanding characteristic was severe acne, like boils. He was driving an older, tannish-gold, full-size sedan, boxy in shape, with body damage. The eyewitness noted his eyes. ‘He had fox eyes,’ she said…”

The case is yet to be solved. If you have any information, please call Inspector Robert Lampkin at the Hayward Police Department (510) 293-7079

Read about Michaela’s kidnapper here.

Visit Sharon Murch’s website for more information about the search for Michaela.

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Madeleine McCann age progression

Madeleine McCann Update – Is Madeleine Alive?

Madeleine McCann age progression
Madeleine McCann as she might look at age 9

Scotland Yard has zeroed in on several “persons of interest” in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, who went missing from a Portugal beach resort while on holiday with her family in 2007 at the age of four.

Madeleine’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, continue to plea for anyone with information to contact police.

Read the story here.

See the links below to read about other missing children.

How you can help: Sign up for wireless amber alerts to receive a text message when children in your area go missing.


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Mother of Michaela Joy Garecht still searches for answers

Sharon Murch’s daughter, Michaela Joy Garecht, was kidnapped 24 years ago. Sharon blogs about her thoughts and daily life at Dear Michaela.

Yesterday, in a post titled Michaela’s Light, Murch wrote about Michaela’s continuing presence, her continuous life, in a way I can’t possibly describe. I will excerpt a small piece here, and I urge you to read Sharon’s own words about the love and light Michaela continues to bring to the world.

The tragedy happened in that moment on November 19, 1988, when she was kidnapped. After that moment, all roads had to lead through one level or another of hell. But if, if this turns out to be Michaela, we can figure that her suffering wasn’t long, that she didn’t cry herself to sleep, that her heart didn’t ache for home, because she was home.

We have to honor her, her person, her life, and her death if that is what happened, and let her continue to inspire love and faith and hope in our hearts.

Sharon continues to search for Michaela. She continues to hope for her return. Michaela’s case was in the news again this week in connection with a terrible and high-profile  case. Read Sharon’s story about Michaela’s possible link to the Shermantine/Herzog case here. Very briefly, the FBI is currently running DNA tests on bone fragments that were found in relation to the “Speed Freak Killings.” Murch writes:

Herzog had been previously linked to Michaela’s case by his partner in crime, Wesley Shermantine, because he looked like Michaela’s kidnapper (although Shermantine later stated that he “doesn’t know anything about that Hayward girl”). The age range of the victim, combined with the limited period of time in which these bodies had been buried, also limits the possibilities as well. There are not that many missing girls from this area of the country that it could be.

These tests should determine definitively whether or not the bone fragments are Michaela’s. Three years ago, there was a possible break in the case that ultimately did not lead to answers. Perhaps this new path, as heartbreaking as it is, will lead somewhere. Murch believes that it might:

It’s quite a leap to go from posting information to help Michaela find help in the UAE to saying in the next blog that I believe it’s likely that evidence has been found that Michaela is not alive, but yes, that is what I am going to say. Part of the reason I say this is because it is simply a logical conclusion. Part of it is that it just feels like it is. In my heart, I have been expecting something to happen. I didn’t know what. I didn’t know it would be this, but I was just expecting something.

Here is Sharon’s message to Michaela.


If you have any information, please call Inspector Robert Lampkinat the Hayward Police Department(510)

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What Happened to the McStay Family?

The McStay family went missing from their home in Falbrook, CA, in February of 2010. Joseph McStay, 40, and his wife Summer, 43, apparently left home in their Isuzu Trooper on the night of February 4 with their two children–Gianni, 4, and Joseph, Jr., 3. Aside from a call Joseph made to one of his co-workers that night, the family has never been heard from again.

There was no sign of forced entry or struggle at the home, which the family had only recently moved into. On February 8, the Trooper was towed from a strip mall parking lot within walking distance of a pedestrian crossing into Mexico. The police scoured video footage from the crossing that night, and concluded that one group of people walking across the border–a man holding the hand of a small boy, followed by a woman holding the hand of another small boy–could very well have been the McStay family. The woman is wearing boots and jackets similar to ones owned by Summer, but family members say the man is too tall and thin to be Jospeh McStay.

While detectives believe the family may have willingly traveled to Mexico–based in part upon an internet search conducted at the home about children visiting Mexico–the fact that they did not return seems to indicate foul play. The family left $40,000 in their personal checking and savings accounts, money which has not been accessed since their disappearance. Joseph also had $65,000 in a business account, and the small withdrawals that have been made from that account are business expense withdrawals conducted by employees. The McStays maintained close relationships with Joseph’s parents, his brother, and Summer’s sister, and Joseph was also very close to his 14-year-old son by a previous marriage. Family members insist they would never abandon their loved ones intentionally. They also left behind two dogs, beloved family pets.

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Joseph’s brother Mike maintains a website with information and updates. Anyone with information about the case is being urged to call deputies at 858-974-2321 or 858-565-5200 after-hours. Tips can also be called in anonymously to CrimeStoppers at 888-580-TIPS(8477).

Their story was featured in May on Vanished with Beth Holloway. View the episode here. Joseph’s youtube channel, last updated in January of 2010, includes cute family videos of the kids experimenting in the kitchen while the parents look on encouragingly, among other ordinary family happenings. The impression one gets in the videos is of a loving, ordinary family–certainly not parents who plan to abandon their lives, bank accounts, and home for a new start South-of-the border.

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Read about Michaela Joy Garecht, missing for 25 years, last seen in Hayward, California. 

Visit the McStay family website here.

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