The Dorian girls at Mountain Brook High School were good friends as well as dance teammates. By her senior year in high school, Natalee had danced for four years alongside many of the same friends with whom she would graduate. These girls did everything together, from studying to dancing to traveling. Several of Natalee's friends would always accompany us on our annual family beach trip. Matt would take a friend too, so as not to be so painfully outnumbered by the giggly girls! The last time all the girls were together for this trip was the year before they graduated. It was the summer of 2004, and there's a beautiful picture of them together from that trip. It's a photo that has appeared in the media many times.
It was only a couple of months after this beach vacation, in October 2004, that Natalee came to me to ask about the senior trip that everyone was talking about. Many in the senior class had signed up for the exotic four-night trip to the Caribbean island of Aruba. Senior classes before hers had taken the trip. It was a tradition. Her stepbrother, George, had even been on it. And this year her stepcousins, Jug's nephews, who were also seniors, were going on the Aruba trip. Natalee really wanted to go, and if I could manage it financially, I really wanted her to have that experience, because she deserved it. She had worked very hard for so long. She was awarded the President's Scholarship at the University of Alabama, as well as a couple of others, for her outstanding academics. I decided that if I could swing this trip for her, I would do it.
As plans were being made, I attended two parent meetings with Jodi, the travel agent who organized the Aruba trip for this class as well as in the past and whose own senior daughter was also scheduled to go this year. At the meetings roommates, payments, and other details were discussed. The position of the chaperones was made clear. They would be there for emergencies such as lost passports, missed flights, and so forth. They would not be conducting bed checks and roll call. More than one hundred of Natalee's senior classmates were going to be on the trip in addition to the seven adults. It was comforting to know there would be safety in numbers.