In October 1993, 12-year-old Polly Klaas was taken from her bedroom during a slumber party with several friends. Polly had opened her bedroom door to find a man holding a knife. The man tied Polly’s friends up and took Polly from her Petaluma home.
The kidnapping captured the attention of the nation, and several months later the kidnapper —Richard Allen Davis, a repeat offender — was caught. He led investigators to Polly’s body. Davis had raped Polly and strangled her to death, burying her in a shallow grave in a field. In 1996, he was sentenced to die, but now he remains on death row 15 years later.
Polly’s father, Marc Klaas has refused to let his hatred of his daughter’s murderer consume him and since the horrible course of events he has dedicated his life to raising awareness about child safety through the Polly Klaas Foundation and KlaasKids Foundation, national nonprofits that help find missing children, prevent children from going missing, and promote laws like Amber Alert that help keep children safe.
On June 25, Klaas will come to Turlock to participate in the GDI Insurance Agency’s Community Safety Saturday. Capital Insurance Group, The Protector Network, KlaasKids Foundation, California Highway Patrol, Turlock Police Department, Turlock Rural Fire Department, and American Red Cross will join together for the event that aims to educate the community on safety.
The event will offer free fingerprinting, photo identity, DNA packets and child safety information.
“Events like this are great because they are raising awareness and they provide parents a positive atmosphere to engage their children about this subject,” said Klaas.
Tabitha Cardenas, mother of Juliani Cardenas, will also attend the event, along with Mitzi Sanchez, who escaped from her kidnapper when she was 8 years old in 2000.
Cardenas’ story is well known in the Central Valley. In January, 4-year-old Juliani was snatched from his grandmother's arms in Patterson by her mother’s boyfriend Jose Esteban Rodriguez. At the time, Tabitha was 8 1/2 months pregnant with Rodriguez' daughter but the couple had split. Rodriguez kidnapped Juliani and then drove his vehicle into the Delta-Mendota Canal. His body and Juliani’s body were subsequently discovered there. Since that time, Tabitha has had a baby daughter, but nothing will replace her son’s life. She is committed to helping others by sharing her story and supporting Community Safety Saturday.
“A lot of people think this can’t happen to them but we are going to have four examples of people who thought the same thing… except it did happen. We aren’t trying to instill fear—we are just being frank with parents. We are relaying to parents the importance of being prepared and how to acquire the steps to communicate to their children about these type of things,” said Klaas.
Lorraine Azevedo, an account manager at GDI knows firsthand the terror a kidnapping can have, even though her son was never abducted. More than 18 years ago her son, then 8 years old, rode his bike to the store to pick up some milk. The Azevedo family had just moved to Hilmar from Ceres looking for a safer area, but kidnappers and child molesters aren’t held to specific areas or demographics — children can be taken anywhere at any time.
As her son was leaving the store a man sitting in a blue car offered him candy and tried to coax him into the car. But Azevedo’s son ran away and was able to get to safety at a friend’s house.
“Thank God my son was smart enough to run away. If he had even reached for the candy that man could have snagged him and I would have never seen my son again,” said Azevedo.
Three months later her son remained traumatized from the event.
“He wouldn’t go outside, even in the back because he was afraid the man would be peeking over the fence at him; he was terrorized,” Azevedo explained.
The family never talked about the event again until GDI began working on plans for the safety fair. Azevedo asked her son if he even remembered it.
“He told me he could remember what happened so well that he knew the make of the car. He knew it was a (Toyota) Corolla,” she said. “That’s how much something like this gets burned into your memory.”
Mitzi Sanchez will be at the event to talk with parents and children. Sanchez was 8 years old in 2000 when she disappeared while walking home from school. She was held captive in the back of Curtis Dean Anderson’s car; her legs were shackled to prevent her escape.
Two days after she was kidnapped she managed to unlock her shackles and escape, running to a nearby trucker for help. Anderson was caught, and in 2007, he died in prison. In March 2009, she helped in the search of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu in Tracy.
For Klaas the pain of losing his daughter has never left and he thinks about her each and every day. With those memories comes anger and hatred for her killer.
“Give me a bullet and give me a gun and I’ll take care of him. I despise him and hate him with every fiber of my being. But instead of holding that anger inside all the time I don’t let it dominate my life. I want Polly’s life to have meaning and it has,” said Klaas.
He has helped pass child safety legislation, such as Megan’s Law, Jessica’s Law, Three Strikes and Chelsea’s Law. Next weekend he will join GDI Insurance and the Turlock area in raising awareness about child abduction.
GDI president Grant Davis said the event is a can’t-miss for parents and their children.
“We’ve quite an amazing event lined up. We didn’t want to make this a ‘come buy insurance from us,’ we wanted this event to fit in our model as a service and helping company. The center hub of our service projects is this child safety fair,” said Davis. “We do fine with our insurance, but I think these kind of things matter.”
Free giveaways will take place with a grand prize being an iPad. GDI will hand out free carbon monoxide detectors, bike helmets, water bottles, tote bags and information. Food and beverages will also be free.
The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on June 25 in GDI parking lot at 801 Geer Rd., in Turlock.
To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail email@example.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.