TYRONE - The chances of finding a missing child drop significantly with the passing of time. In the case of a missing Tyrone girl, decades have ticked away.
Thursday marks the 45th anniversary of the disappearance of then 6-year-old Kathleen Ann Shea while she was walking to Adams Elementary School March 18, 1965.
With the teacher thinking Kathy was out sick, and her mother thinking she was at school, hours passed before anyone realized she was missing. What happened to the daughter of the late James and Mary Alice Shea of Tyrone is still unknown.
She was last seen splashing in rain puddles on her way to school, according to a 1966 newspaper clipping. Along the way, a crossing guard helped her across 15th Street, and Shea spoke to a woman who was watching from her North Avenue home to make sure her own daughter reached the school safely.
Then Kathy Shea vanished.
Thousands searched for the girl and more than 9,000 police manhours went into the case, the clipping from the Mirror states.
When she went missing
Kathy Shea was last seen on her way
to school, walking north between
15th and 16th streets in Tyrone. She was wearing a brown hat, a beige coat with a fur collar, a red sweater, a brown jumper, red tights, red gloves and yellow boots
DOB: Feb. 2, 1959
Missing: March 18, 1965
Age now: 51
Weight: 47 lbs.
Missing from: Tyrone, PA, United States
Discussion points to share with your children to protect themselves from danger:
Tell your parents where you are going, who you will be with and when you expect to return. If your parents are not home, make sure you leave a note to tell them where you are.
If you are in a public place and you get separated from your parents, don't wander around looking for them. Go to a checkout counter, the security office or the lost and found and tell the person in charge that you lost your mom and dad and need help finding them.
You should not get into a car or go anywhere with any person unless your parents have told you that it is OK.
Carry change or a cell phone in case you need to make an emergency call.
If someone follows you on foot or in a car, stay away from him or her. You should not get close to any car unless your parent or a trusted adult accompanies you. Never go near a car, especially if someone is inside.
If someone tries to take you somewhere, quickly get away and scream, "This man/woman is trying to take me away!" or "This person is not my father/mother!"
Take a friend with you. Never go places alone.
Always ask permission to leave the yard or play area or to go into someone's home.
Never hitchhike or try to get a ride home with anyone unless your parents have told you it is OK to ride with him or her.
If someone wants to take your picture, say no and tell your parents or teacher.
No one should touch you in an area of the body that would be covered by a bathing suit, nor should you touch anyone else in those areas. Your body is special and private.
You can be assertive, and you have the right to say no to someone who tries to take you somewhere, touches you or makes you feel uncomfortable, scared or confused in any way.
Avoid overgrown or wooded areas, dark streets, alleys, parking lots and empty lots and buildings.
Do not accept rides or go into buildings with anyone unless you have a parent's permission.
Never go with anyone if they are asking for help in finding an address, a lost animal or any other object or person. Adults should ask other adults for assistance if they need help.
Never go anywhere with anyone (even people you know) unless you have permission from your parents, even if that person said your parents sent them to get you. Always check with your parents before going anywhere with anyone.
Never accept items such as candy, money, pictures or any other objects from anyone.
Do not run errands or do favors for people unless your parents say it is OK to do so.
If anyone makes you feel uncomfortable or asks you to do anything you do not approve of, you are allowed to say no.
Source: Pennsylvania State Police
Virgie Werner, a friend of Mary Alice, drove the route Wednesday she believes Kathy took to school from her 513 W. 14th St. home. On the way to the house, she turns down the volume on her car's CD player, fading out the melody to "Amazing Grace."
"Kathy was a little reserved," she said. "She was a bright little girl."
The paint is peeling on the girl's former home. A cement step sits uneven in the ground. Kathy's walk to school was about four and one-half blocks.
Werner said the two women were pregnant at the same time, and Mary Alice was excited to have her first child.
"It's still hard to believe it happened," Werner said. Her voice still catches in her throat at memories.
Mary Alice Shea never gave up hope, she said. She died in 1997, and James R. Shea Jr. died nine years later. He remained active in the search for his daughter up until the last year of his life, a Mirror story said.
Kathy, who would have turned 51 on Feb. 2, has two brothers, Todd Shea of Boalsburg and Kevin Shea of Columbus, Ohio, and a sister, Kristin Herndon of Florida. The Mirror contacted a family member Friday who didn't wish to comment.
Kathy's father and grandfather, James Shea Sr., worked at Tyrone's paper mill.
"A lot of times I got to thinking about what happened. I suppose I won't know now but in the hereafter. ... My wife died eight years ago. She probably knows now," Kathy's father said the year before he died.
He told a Mirror reporter he remembered his last conversation with Kathy and how he offered to drive her to school because he was home from work for lunch.
"No dad, I like walking in the snow," she had said.
Kathy's disappearance saddened the community, which turned out en masse to search for the girl, Werner said. Thousands of people, including soldiers from the Tyrone National Guard Armory, joined the search.
Months after her disappearance, Kathy's photo and her description were sent to schools nationwide in case someone enrolled her.
"After all these years, we would still love to know," Werner said.
So would state Trooper Fred Leamer, an investigating officer on the case who has since retired. He said they never found so much as a lock of Kathy Shea's hair.
"I sure would be interested to solve it," he said. "You just wonder what ever happened."
No 'solid leads'
About a half dozen state police investigators have worked on the case in the past 10 years. About a year ago, the case was assigned to Trooper Rick McEldowney.
Turnover allows for fresh eyes to scan the more than 900 pages of information in the case, McEldowney said.
"We haven't had any solid leads," he said.
They have had numerous ones, though. He said police have received calls from as far away as Arkansas and Michigan, he said.
"People really get into this," he said of the unsolved abduction.
McEldowney is working on leads brought to his attention last year, but he declined to say if any of the information was solid.
"I really can't say at this point that it is any more or less solid than some of the leads in the past," he said in a February e-mail. "If we come up with anything that would move us substantially towards finding Kathy Shea or how she disappeared, then I would consider it very solid. But as of now, I just can't gauge it."
From the beginning, police had no physical evidence or eye witnesses, McEldowney said.
"It's just like she vanished," he said.
When he started on the case, he read the first 80 pages and then started over, reading the case backwards, he said. Cases are kept open until the passing of time makes it obvious that those involved are dead.
But finding out what became of Kathy Shea is not impossible. Someone could still confess or someone could find a body somewhere, he said.
"I know [with] all the investigators that's the goal - find Kathy Shea," he said.
A different response
Over the years, organizations dedicated to finding missing children were established, and law enforcement response to child abductions has become proactive.
McEldowney said 1.3 million children go missing nationally every year, the majority being runaways.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was established in 1984, and in 1996, the Amber Alert system began in Texas to honor 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped and later found dead. Amber Alerts have now spread nationwide.
For the past 15 years, a robotic character known as Trooper Caresalot from the Hollidaysburg state police barracks has warned area kids about stranger danger. The number of incidents has increased over time, but in this area, they don't happen as much, said Trooper David McGarvey, a spokesman for the Hollidaysburg barracks.
Mothers & More of Central PA, the Hollidaysburg Area Public Library and state police hosted a Stranger Danger program in January at the library for about 30 kids.
The Bellwood-Antis Public Library will host the program at 6:30 p.m. May 10.
Trooper Caresalot, using the voice of a real trooper, talks to the children about staying safe, and a video is shown of different scenarios children might find themselves in and what they should do.
"A stranger is anybody you don't know who they are," Caresalot said. "A stranger should never need the help of a kid to find something."
Mothers & More leader Shelly Beaver said the program opens up the dialogue between parent and child on a difficult subject.
Caresalot said he was trying to make them aware.
"If someone tries to grab you, I want you to scream. I want you to yell," he said.
Kick, scratch and bite, he said.
Since 2008, seven abduction attempts have been reported to Blair County police. Four of the attempts were in Altoona.
In March 2008, a woman tried to pull a girl into her car at Bell Avenue and Jaggard Street, and a man approached a girl waiting for a ride to school in the area of North Fifth Street and North Seventh Avenue near Juniata Elementary School. The suspect followed the girl on foot, but she ran to a house for help, Altoona police said.
In July 2008, a white male with a red goatee tried to lure a 12-year-old girl into his newer, gray four-door sedan on a weekday afternoon while she was walking on the 1800 block of Fifth Street, police said.
Altoona police also reported that a 16-year-old girl said four black men in their 20s tried to abduct her when she was walking in September 2008 in the city, and a 10-year-old girl bit a man who grabbed her from behind while she was walking through a parking lot at Second Street and Third Avenue in February 2009.
In Tyrone, a man in a red pickup truck attempted to abduct a 13-year-old girl in October 2009. Similar incidents occurred in December 2006 and January 2007.
At the time, Tyrone Borough Police Chief Joseph L. Beachem cautioned walking students to get a ride to school or walk in groups.
Although not finding Kathy Shea leaves her life without an ending, in abduction cases, endings are not always happy - as was the case of Melody Curtis.
Melody, an 11-year-old Florida girl, was visiting her grandmother in Tyrone in the summer of 1996, when she disappeared and was later found brutally raped and murdered.
Her convicted killer, Ronald K. Isenberg, 31, is serving an 18- to 40-year prison sentence at the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy in Frackville, Schuykill County. Isenberg pleaded guilty to third-degree murder for Melody's death but later tried to withdraw his plea in Blair County Court. An appeal is pending in the state Supreme Court.
Over the years, advancements in technology and forensic science have increased the resources available to law enforcement, McEldowney said.
At the recent stranger danger program, child identification and DNA kits were available for parents to take home and keep on file.
"We [state police] are much more equipped now to immediately respond and initiate a missing child investigation than we were 45 years ago," McEldowney said.
A major case team is on speed dial, he said.
"I know if it was one of my children, I would want the Air Force out looking," he said.