My mother used to tell me, "John, miracles happen every day, you just have to see them." But I never did.
I've been a reporter for over twenty-five years, covering the "hard" news. Crime, war, corruption, and of course, politics. And what I've seen in my life has done nothing to prove my mother right.
I've been in countries where a war was started because they wanted to move a border two feet and hundreds died. I've covered child abuse stories that would curdle your blood. I once interviewed an eleven year old boy who'd shot his three year old sister, "Because." And I interviewed a fifteen year old, straight A student who knived his grandmother because, "She moved my stuff."
After a quarter of a century, I finally gave up the limelight, climbed out of the muck and took a job with the Cascade Herald, in Cascade, Washington. But who knew Cascade could be so dangerous? And yet, she always seemed to step back from the edge.....to survive terrorists, mad bombers, drug cartels, kidnappers and seriel killers. Almost as if she had a guardian angel.
But I never saw a miracle. Until yesterday. Thursday, June 24th, 1999.
Was it a grand miracle? Or a series of small interelated miracles? I don't know and I don't care. My life was changed, forever altered. The way I *look* at life has been forever changed. Guess miracles can do that to you.
I remember a few years back, getting my eyes checked. You know what I mean, you sit in that chair, an eye apparatus in front of your face, and the technician goes click-click and a lens drops down in front of your eyes. If the tech isn't so good, you go through several click-clicks, as your vision gets better but never quite there. If the tech is good, you get one click-click and you can see. Crystal clear on one click-click. That's what happened to me yesterday. Click-click. Fuzzy ~ Clear. The world turned on it's axis and my paradigms were blasted into smithereens.
Was this miracle seen by the many? Or just me?
Most of it was witnessed by millions of television viewers, glued to their sets as only a potential tragedy can glue us.
Some of it was witnessed by a lucky handful.
And one part was mine alone. Click-click.
And how did this miracle start? With a serial killer. A man who had kidnapped three children in three different cities. He took them from their homes in broad daylight. He took them, tortured them and raped them. Then he killed them.
The first was in Spokane, the second in Seattle, the third in Port Angeles. And yesterday, he took his fourth. Here in Cascade. A six year old named Genna Carstairs. The case was turned over to Major Crimes and Captain Simon Banks turned it over to his best team. Detective James Ellison and Detective Blair Sandburg.
The media was kept out of the loop until the story took a strange turn, right into the Twilight Zone.
Ellison, a ten year veteran and his partner, a rookie detective, had put together a series of seemingly unrelated clues that led them to a house in the Lennox district owned by a Michael Evans. Upon their arrival, they found the house empty, but something must have alerted them, as the two men headed off into the woods.
<<"There are no heartbeats inside, Chief."
"Scan the surrounding woods."
"Got 'em. She's got away from him. She's running. Maybe....twenty, thirty yards from here, and he's not far behind her. Chief, you cut east, intercept her, I'll go after Evans.">>
Somehow, Genna had managed to get away from her captor, but in running from him, she ran onto an old oil field, abandoned years ago, when it was discovered that tunnels from an ancient mine ran beneath the field.
There had been heavy rain two days before and the earth was soft.
A terrified girl, soft, rain soaked earth, unstable ground, and she was gone.
Evidently Detective Sandburg had reached the clearing just in time to see little Genna disappear as the earth swallowed her.
<<Blair looked at the area around where Genna had just gone down.....It looked stable enough, but...."JIM!">>
At some point, Detective Ellison must have realized that something was wrong.....
<<Ellison's head snapped up, all his senses trained to the east. A sound, a shifting of earth, and a scream. Where was Sandburg? He focused and found the heartbeat, fast, erratic....then, "JIM!">>
The detective found his partner and they managed to get a glimpse of Genna and could determine that she was alive.
<<"Jim, can you see her? Is she alive?"
"Yeah, and I've got a heartbeat. She's down about fifty feet and wedged in tight, Looks like she landed on some ledge. We'll need.....", he didn't need to finish, Sandburg was already punching in the numbers on his cell phone.>>
Within an hour, the field was full.
The Fire Department, Police, Civil Engineers, Cyclops Oil engineers, construction crews, spectators, the Carstairs and the press. And me, John Upton, ex star reporter for CNN now star reporter for The Cascade Herald.
We the press arrived en masse, ready to film this story, happy ending or not. Tragedy was news.
Cameras were whirling and clicking, microphones were shoved into any and every face, hoping for *the* byte that would lead off a news report/headline/cover......and there, ever present, in the thick of things, Detectives Ellison and Sandburg, who had been joined by other Major Crimes detectives.
Captain Simon Banks was easily recognizable to the media and it didn't take long to identify the others.....Detective Joel Taggert, Detective Henri Brown, Detective Brian Rafe and the Australian exchange officer, Inspector Megan Connor.
My fellow reporters amazed me. They could so easily have converged on the Major Crime detectives, and Detective Sandburg, who just a few weeks earlier, along with his partner, were the center of a frenzied media circus. But the reporters stayed focused on the immediate story: The incredible rescue efforts for Genna Carstairs. And the fact that the seriel killer had been caught by Detectives Ellison and Sandburg was not lost on my compatriots.
Darkness had fallen and it was six hours into the rescue effort. Fear and worry was now evident on everyone's faces, and Genna still could not be seen. Yet the rescue workers seemed to take their cue from Ellison and Sandburg who were certain that she was still alive.
"Yeah, I can still hear her. She's whimpering and calling for her......mother.">>
But it had been six hours. It was cold. How long could she last and how hurt was she? These were the questions we asked. No one had the answers.
Mr. and Mrs. Carstairs and their two other children, a twelve year old son and a nine year old daughter, began to look truly frightened for the first time that night.
And then the earth moved.
The rescue team had been drilling down, a few feet east of where Genna was evidently trapped, the idea being to widen the hole enough to get a man down to the little girl. But the drilling had loosened the earth and the shift of ground had coughed up rocks and boulders. The drill hit one of the boulders, breaking the drill and shoving the boulder into the space they had just cleared, narrowing the hole again and setting back the rescue efforts by hours, if not destroying them altogether.
There must have been over a hundred people at or around the rescue area, with noise at crescendo levels, but as the machines shut down and word spread, the field fell completely silent. All work ceased, and men stood, wiping their faces, brushing at their pants, the rescue lights, combined with the media lighting, illuminated the face of every worker, every fireman, every cop.
Mrs. Carstairs fainted and her daughter began to quietly sob.
I noticed Detectives Ellison and Sandburg walk to the very edge of the hole and Sandburg began to speak quietly but urgently to his partner, who kept nodding his head.
<<"Jim, is it clear below the blockage?"
"Yeah, Chief, if we can find a way to remove the dirt, suck it out somehow, we might have a wide enough channel to get someone down."
"I've got an idea, how much time do you think we have?"
"She's weak, Blair, very weak. Maybe an hour, hour and a half.">>
I watched as Sandburg hurried over to the man in charge of the rescue, Captain Tom Harris. He talked quickly, face animated, hands gesturing, pointing, waving.....I saw Harris' expression change ~ from disgust, to disinterest, to listenting intently, to nodding excitedly. Then he began to bark orders.
And the whole place exploded in sound and movement.
We quickly surrounded Phil Morales, Captain Harris' aide and press liason and the questions flew fast and furious but finally subsided as Morales remained silent. Once he had our attention, he explained the next step.
It was believed that they could still get down to Genna, that she was safe, perhaps in a pocket, and they just needed to clear the new dirt. We were told that they were sending for an apparatus that would suck up the loose dirt from the now clogged channel. The machine was being flown in from a Cyclops Oil rig and should be up and running within the hour.
It was the longest hour the world had experienced.
But no one left their television sets. America and the rest of the world sat transfixed, collective breaths held in hope and desperation.
There have been many such rescue efforts, but none captured the world's attention as this did. A feisty little girl gets away from her abductor only to fall prey to chance and mother nature.
But the collective instinct said that "our" little Genna, and she *was* ours, was now out of time.
Seven and half into the rescue, the great Cyclops machine went quiet. They had removed as much dirt as possible and all eyes fixed on the hole, on the small space they'd created. They could now see the huge boulder, jutting out into the hole. And hope died. The space was too small ~ too small for any of the workers. But there was one man, on his knees, at the edge of the hole. And I was close enough to hear his words, to hear him tell the others that he could make it.
They must have agreed because a few minutes later, Detective Blair Sandburg was being outfitted in a harness, hooked up and then lowered.......
Additional klieg lights had been set-up, and were focused on the hole so all could see as the Detective's head disappeared from view.
Overhead, helicopters circled, some with zoom videocams. The world could see what we could not, the harness, the hole and Genna's last hope. He was still in view for the world, all we saw was the slowly lowering cable.
And the irony of the situation was not lost on the media or the gathered officials.
The man who, weeks ago, declared himself and his work a fraud, the man who was half of the team that captured Genna's kidnapper, was the man going down after Genna.
Detective Sandburg had been fitted with a mic and his voice could be heard, giving instructions and updates, and finally ~ that he could see her, that she had moved, that Genna Carstairs was alive.
The cheer that went up was deafening.
Detective Sandburg's voice was heard again, informing the crew that he had her in his arms, to start bringing them up. The winch was reversed and began to turn, but after three minutes, Sandburg's voice stopped them.
We saw the winch halt and whispers flew. "What was wrong?", "Why did they stop?" , and Sandburg's voice telling them that there wasn't enough room for both of them. He couldn't squeeze past the boulder, not with Genna in his arms. His quiet, calm voice explained what he was going to do. He would brace himself against the boulder, legs against the opposite wall, then remove the harness, hook up Genna and they could pull her up, then send it back to him.
The harness transfer took place and once again the winch moved.
Eight and half hours after Genna had first disappeared into the hole, she was brought up.
Her parents were there, but it was Detective Ellison who grabbed the cable, swung it in and captured the little girl into his arms. The harness was gently removed and she was delivered into her father's waiting embrace.
The EMT's took over then, as Genna was lowered to a waiting gurney. Attention slowly shifted from the hole to the EMT's. A subtle move of bodies away from the cable and over to the paramedics, with reporters, camera's, and microphones, now all trained on the gurnery. And forgetting for the moment that a young man remained in the hole, a young man with limbs spasming from the strain of keeping himself braced, with sweat trickling down his face and whose breathing was coming in raspy gasps, from the exertion of holding his body rigid.