Resolve to find kidnapped boy unites a town

  Jonathan T. Lovitt


  USA Today


  Page 03A

  (Copyright 1997)


  BEAUMONT, Calif. -- As yellow ribbons flutter in the darkness, porch lights are

  ablaze. The ribbons and lights symbolize a community effort to light the way

  home for Anthony Martinez.


  Since a knife-wielding stranger forced Anthony, 10, into a white sedan last week,

  town residents haven't rested.


  They want Tony back.


  While Southern Pacific trains rumble through town every 20 minutes on their

  east-west journey, the residents of Beaumont work to find one of their own.


  Most of the 9,685 residents wear yellow ribbons. Nearly all businesses have

  fliers carrying a picture of Anthony and a composite drawing and description of

  the kidnapping suspect.


  ``I'm here for the long haul, until Anthony comes home,'' says Marsha Spencer,

  33, who scoured the Yellow Pages calling local businesses for donations to fund

  the search.


  ``I've never seen the community come together like this,'' says waitress Linda

  Severn, who pins yellow ribbons on all her customers.


  While searchers cover mountainous territory using horses, trail bikes and

  helicopters, volunteers at rows of tables make phone calls, send faxes and

  prepare the yellow ribbons that have come to symbolize the abduction.


  The U.S. Justice Department estimates that non-family members abduct 3,200 to

  4,600 children annually.


  Now, residents young and old are trying to come to grips with such a case

  happening so close to home.


  ``I keep thinking, `What if that was my baby?' '' Mayor Jan Leja says as she

  strokes the head of her 8-year-old-son, David. ``I'd be wondering if he was cold,

  if he had enough to eat. We just have to remain positive and keep Anthony's

  name out there. Somebody is bound to see something.''


  Earlier this week, Anthony's classmates at Summit Elementary School launched

  2,000 helium balloons, each containing a photo of Anthony.


  ``He was one of my best friends. I hope no one has hurt him,'' says Adam

  Alacala, 11, who released a balloon.


  Holly Albers, a sixth-grade teacher who has taught at Summit school for 14

  years, says, ``Everyone's pulled together and that's helped a lot in calming the

  kids' fears.''


  Police, who investigate about two or three homicides a year here, have fielded

  more than 1,000 leads. They're halfway through checking a Justice Department

  list of 47 sex offenders in the area.


  Frustration was evident on the face of Ernesto Medina, Tony's stepfather, as he

  waited at City Hall for any news. ``I want to be out there searching with them,''

  he said.


  Police spent the day searching with aircraft equipped with infrared sensors, but

  turned up nothing.


  ``Anthony wasn't there,'' said Beaumont Police Lt. John Acosta, who heads the



  Anthony was abducted just a few blocks from Interstate 10; the culprit easily

  could have fled the area quickly.


  A week ago today, when Anthony and his brother Marcos, 6, were playing in the

  yard next door at about 5 p.m., a slight, blue-eyed man wearing a baseball cap

  approached on foot.


  He asked them to help him find his lost cat. He showed them photos. He gave

  them a dollar. The children reluctantly followed him from their yard to a gravel

  alley that runs behind the Medina apartment.


  During a brief struggle, the man grabbed Tony and carried him off kicking and



  FBI agents and officials from several agencies hope that they'll be able to find

  Anthony. But they know that with every day that goes by the chances of finding

  him alive grow more remote.


  ``The first 48 hours are crucial in any case like this,'' Acosta says. ``And we're

  well past that now.''

  GRAPHIC, B/W, USA TODAY (Map); PHOTO, B/W,Laurie Ward, The

  (Riverside) Press-Enterprise; PHOTO, B/W,David Bauman, The

  Press-Enterprise; PHOTOS, B/W, AP (2)