This is a plea to a stranger: If you know what happened to Dail Dinwiddie, please find a computer and send me an anonymous e-mail. It's been 10 years. Enough.
I wish I were just being dramatic, but I'm not. Readers of this column know that 10 years ago on Sept. 24, my son's baby sitter was kidnapped and has never been found. This summer of disappearances has made Dail's missing-ness impossible to stuff back into the file cabinet.
Dail vanished sometime after 1 a.m. following a U2 concert in Columbia, S.C. She had been with friends, traveling as a group in the Five Points area of town where college students keep the streets alive until bars close at 4 in the morning. The last person to see her was a bouncer at a bar called Jungle Jim's. The bouncer recalled that she was looking for her friends, hoping for a ride home.
Someone gave her a ride, but who?
The difference between Dail's disappearance and those we've been following the past few months is that Dail was an adult of 23. When adults disappear, no one pays much attention for at least 24 hours. Police, who are understandably skeptical (I'll explain shortly), figure an adult woman who doesn't come home has found other company and made other plans.
In Dail's case they were wrong. Those of us who knew her were certain something was seriously wrong. I knew, for instance, that she would never leave my son, then 8 years old, standing by the roadside where the school bus dropped him each afternoon. Dail's parents knew that she would never leave them to worry so.
Dail had been living at home with her parents, taking graduate art classes following her graduation from college. She was tiny, just 5 feet tall, and weighing barely 100 pounds. I could have picked her up with one arm. She was also beautiful, the sort of girl who turned heads while seeming not to notice, or care.
No one could say that law-enforcement agencies, from local police to the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Department to the FBI, didn't do their best. Friends raised reward money. Pals from the night of her disappearance re-enacted events and traced steps for detectives to consider, looking for clues. Psychics poured their best vibrations into a cauldron of speculation. Nothing.
I'm not sure it would have made a difference had police begun looking sooner than the 24 hours that passed between the last sighting and the news conference late the next afternoon. Most in the missing-person business say that the trail grows cold quickly, and any delay increases the likelihood that the missing won't be found.
The skepticism I mentioned earlier is based on personal experience. After Dail's disappearance I became a volunteer, forming an organization to look for missing adults -not tomorrow but the minute they weren't where they were expected. After my fair share of late-night calls from frantic wives, I learned that most adults who go missing in this country usually do turn up elsewhere, often in jail.
But Dail really did disappear. She really did get taken by someone who doubtless meant her harm. She really does deserve to be found, as do all others like her. And, not least, her parents deserve the peace of knowing.
I spoke to Dail's mother recently and we discussed what to do. More stories? More news conferences? More posters? Or is it time to let Dail go, hold a service, say the prayers that release people from Earth's hold? It was not an easy conversation. "How do I do that?" her mother asked. "How do I hold a service? If I give up, then everybody gives up. How do I do that?"
I guess you don't, is what I said. You don't give up. You hope that someone out there will find it in his heart to send an anonymous e-mail and tell us where to look. Do it.