Polly Klaas' father reflects on anniversary of her disappearance

October 4, 2013 1:50:13 PM PDT
Today marks 20 years since the kidnapping of 12-year-old Petaluma resident Polly Klaas, and her father is using the grim anniversary to focus on progress that has been made in missing-child cases since then.

Polly was having a sleepover with friends at her mother's home on Fourth Street in Petaluma on Oct. 1, 1993, when she was taken from her bedroom by a knife-wielding intruder. Her body was found two months later in a rural area near Cloverdale.

Richard Allen Davis, now 59, was convicted in 1996 of kidnapping and murdering Polly, and remains on death row at San Quentin State Prison.

A commemorative 20th anniversary event was held Tuesday afternoon at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. The event, which was not open to the public, was organized by the KlaasKids Foundation, founded by Polly's father Marc Klaas.

"My wife and I had a really difficult time figuring how we wanted to address this milestone," Klaas said in a phone interview this morning. "This is not something we celebrate."

However, he said, the anniversary is significant and marks how much has been accomplished in terms of child safety since Polly's death.

A short movie about Polly and the foundation was scheduled to be screened at the event and an announcement made about new search-and-rescue efforts.

Klaas said today "is a very tough day" and that every year "this anniversary comes and we think about what happened back on this day."

Despite the difficult memories, he said, marking 20 years "puts in context what we've done" in terms of the work of the KlaasKids Foundation.

"I think our foundation is Polly's legacy," he said.

The organization has organized many searches for missing people, including efforts to track down murdered nursing student Michelle Le, 26, in 2011, and the ongoing search for 15-year-old Sierra LaMar who went missing in Morgan Hill in March 2012.

Members of the Le and LaMar families were in attendance at the event. Petaluma police officers, FBI agents and others who worked on Polly's case were said to be at the commemoration.

"We wanted to surround ourselves with people that we've gotten to know over the course of the past 20 years," he said.

He said the moment he realized his daughter was dead was the "most profound" moment of his life and that he feels Polly's absence constantly.

A separate 20th anniversary event will be held at the Petaluma Community Center on Friday by the Petaluma-based Polly Klaas Foundation, which is not affiliated with KlaasKids. The center is located at 320 N. McDowell Blvd.

Former FBI Agent Ed Freyer, who worked on Polly's case, is expected to attend and speak at that ceremony, which is open to the public and will include youth performances and a message of healing and hope. The event begins at 6:30 p.m.

A community remembers Polly Klaas

At the Cinnabar Theater in North Petaluma, life is about sets and costumes. For artistic director Elly Lichenstein, the next play is the thing. Then Oct. 1 rolls around and like any other long-term Petaluma resident, she says, "Everybody in Petaluma, our minds go to Polly Klaas."

Lichenstein remembers a young actress who never reached her potential. She said, "She was very talented and driven."

It changed 20 years ago this Tuesday night, when Richard Alan Davis broke into a slumber party in Polly's bedroom. He tied up her friends, dragged Polly off, assaulted her, killed her, and abandoned her. It wasn't just a heinous crime, it was also traumatic. Until the Polly Klaas abduction, Petaluma felt so safe and immune.

"The change in perception was that Petaluma wouldn't be touched by that kind of crime. After the fact, people realized that it can happen anywhere," said Petaluma police Lt. Dan Fish.

Fish was the first officer on the scene 20 years ago. For 63 days, he, along with police and thousands of volunteers combed the countryside with thousands of volunteers.

"The best of us came out. The worst of us came out, everything in between, but we did it all together," said Elly Lichtenstein, a friend of Polly. "The last thing she did here was Annie in 'Annie.' [She was] the lead, which we are doing again this year and we'll be dedicating it to her memory."

They finally found Polly's body atop a pile of trash in Colverdale, left there by Davis.

It is best to not ask Marc Klaas about forgiveness. He told us, "I will witness that execution with great joy. I will drink champagne after he's snuffed."

But at least he's given meaning to his daughter's death, Amber Alerts, sex offender registrations, the three strikes law -- all have come about because of Polly.

And yet, on this 20th anniversary, Klaas told us, "I would trade everything in a moment, there's no question. If I could have one sit down with my child, I would trade everything that's happened in the last 20 years. But that cannot be."

ABC7 News reporter Wayne Freedman contributed to this report.


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