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Now, as Amanda comes to visit, Cheryl's convinced she can do a better job watching out for Hanna than DFACS is doing. Amanda and Cheryl don't get along, so Amanda has asked Chris Sheldon, another DFACS caseworker, to meet her at the trailer.
The four women - the DFACS workers, Maxine and Cheryl - sit around the coffee table in the trailer's living room. The topic quickly turns to Cheryl's frustration with a system that can't locate her daughter. Cheryl complains that DFACS is making her go through psychological testing and parenting classes on her own dime, while the agency itself, not she, is the one who lost her daughter.
"She was in y'all's custody, in state custody," Cheryl says, not for the first time. "How did she slip away?"
Cheryl argues that Hanna never should have been placed in another group home after she ran away from DFACS the first time. Security at those facilities isn't tight enough. She tells Amanda that Hanna should have been sent to boot camp, where she would have been safe.
"I don't know whether you've lost a child or have had a child missing," Cheryl says, her voice starting to waver. "I don't know whether my child is dead or alive, if she is hungry, if she has clothes on her back, if she is living on the streets."
She bursts into tears. Tears start to well up in Chris' and Amanda's eyes.
"I just want my grandbaby back," Maxine tells them, choking back her own sobs.
"Do you know where we can find her?" Amanda asks. "I just want to find her."
"All we know," Maxine says, repeating information she already shared with Amanda three months earlier, "is she might be in California."
When Amanda gets back to the DFACS office, she returns the call from Christine in Maine. Nearly a week has passed since Hanna's stepmother called with the news that Hanna's profile needed to be entered into the national missing children's database.
Now, Christine tells Amanda that to list Hanna as a missing child, all DFACS has to do is give the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children the police report number associated with Hanna's case. DFACS has the number on file. Amanda says she'll talk to a supervisor to find out if she can hand over the information.
Nine days later, Amanda e-mails her supervisor, Susan Waddell: "I received a call from Hanna Montessori's step mother saying that we did not file missing persons on Hanna nationally. ... What should I do? She wants me to call ... and give them the case number filed by the police."
The supervisor brings up the issue with another DFACS official. A month passes. Nothing happens. DFACS doesn't send Hanna's information to the database. Christine doesn't hear back from Amanda.
Soon, however, Amanda and others at DFACS will learn there's nothing more they can do for Hanna.
Santa Ana, Calif., Jan. 19, 2004
Forty miles south of Los Angeles, the sun has just set over Morse Drive. The man who lives in the house with the tall white fence is standing in his driveway. He sees a gray pickup truck turn onto the street, then hears its passenger-side door open. Something heavy drops to the ground.
The truck turns around in the cul-de-sac. It starts back up the street. Its headlights cut through the dark, and the man sees something in the light: a girl.
She's wearing jeans, he thinks, and a white shirt. She's lying on her side, stretched out, her cheek pressed into the pebbled blacktop. She's facing the man.
He notices the blood.
Everything is happening fast. Thoughts race through his head. For a second, he considers grabbing a 2x4 off the bed of his own pickup, running into the street and throwing it at the truck, which is slowly making its getaway.
But if the driver hurt that girl, he might not think twice about hurting someone else.
Instead, the man runs inside his house, where his wife and kids are getting ready to go with him to the store. He calls 911.
"Is she moving?" the dispatcher asks.
"I don't see her moving."
"Is she alive?"
"I'm not sure."
"Can you go check?"
"You know what? Just send everybody out here."
Within minutes, a fire truck, an ambulance and a police car pull onto Morse Drive. The man stands in his yard. He notices that the girl has moved. She's now curled into a fetal position. That means she's still alive.
The ambulance drives her a couple of miles to an Orange County hospital.
Santa Ana police canvass the neighborhood but generate no leads. No one seems to know the girl. Police do get one break early on: Investigators match her fingerprints to those taken a month earlier, when she was arrested in Los Angeles. But she gave L.A. police a fake name. Santa Ana authorities also believe she's younger than 18, the age she gave at the time of her arrest.
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