When abducted children return home safely, the news makes headlines. In 2003, 15-year-old Elizabeth Smart was saved after going missing for nine months. Shawn Hornbeck, snatched off his bicycle at 11 years old and gone for four years, returned home in 2007. Most recently, 29-year-old Jaycee Dugard was reunited with her family after being abducted 18 years ago.
These miracles are more than just uplifting news items. They give hope to families across the country, like the Aisenberg family, who are searching for a missing child.
On November 24, 1998, 5-month-old Sabrina Aisenberg vanished from her Florida home. "This morning, someone came into our home and took our baby, Sabrina Paige, out of her crib," Sabrina's mother, Marlene, said in a press conference. An intense search ensued, and eventually the Aisenbergs became the center of the investigation.
Concerned that Marlene didn't appear upset enough and that her husband, Steve, was smiling with investigators, detectives got permission to plant electronic bugs in their house and secretly recorded more than 60 conversations. Those tapes led police to charge the Aisenbergs with conspiracy and lying to investigators. Eventually, the couple was cleared and the case was dismissed, but Sabrina was never returned home. Today, she would be 12 years old.
The news of Jaycee Dugard's rescue gives the Aisenberg family a renewed sense of hope, Marlene says. "I'm so happy for them to have Jaycee home. But I sit and say, 'When's it going to be my turn?' I'm thrilled for them, but I want it to happen for us too," she says.
Steve says he believes police presume Sabrina is dead and that's part of the reason Sabrina hasn't been found. "The authorities did a great job of looking for a body, but they didn't do a great job looking for a baby. We always said: 'Look for our daughter. She's out there,'" he says. "Those critical days where they were looking for a body instead of a baby has enabled whoever took Sabrina to keep her longer."
The cloud of suspicion surrounding the Aisenbergs made it more difficult to look for Sabrina and move on as a family, Steve says. "We have two other children in our home that we're trying to raise and protect and help make their future bright," he says. "So it's a balancing act of trying to do what we need to with our attorneys to disprove what we're being accused of and also trying to get Sabrina's age progression picture out there so we can try and find our daughter."
Though it's been more than a decade since Sabrina's disappearance, the Aisenbergs remain hopeful that she will return home. "I believe that Sabrina could be watching this herself," Marlene says. "She's 12 years old now. She could be on the Internet. She's going to look at her brother and sister in the audience today and she's going to see that 'I look like them. I look like those two kids.'"
William, Sabrina's older brother, was 8 when she was abducted. Her sister, Monica, was 4. "I remember I used to go into her room sometimes right when I woke up and just look at her," Monica says. "That's pretty much the extent of what I remember from her, but I did it every day, so I remember it. I definitely miss her a lot."
The Aisenbergs believe vital information could come from anywhere. "Somebody who knows the family she's with right now could see your show today and say, 'Wow, I heard the story of how they got this child and when you look at this story, that story doesn't add up,'" Marlene says.
Despite their family tragedy, the Aisenbergs say they are moving forward. "We are a strong family. We've raised our family with a lot of love," Marlene says. "We've always been honest, and we talk and communicate about absolutely everything."
The Aisenbergs make a choice every day to not dwell on the past, they say. "Our whole goal was to look forward," Steve says. "We can't change that she was taken. All we can do is try and affect how we can get her home by getting her picture out."
Moving on doesn't mean forgetting, the Aisenbergs say. "There's always a hole, some piece of us missing. But she's in our hearts every single day. William once said when he was 8 or 10 years old that she's not in our everyday lives but she's in our hearts every day," Marlene says. "I do believe she will come home and be in our everyday lives one day."
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office declined to be interviewed, but their chief legal counsel issued this statement: "The criminal investigation into the disappearance of Sabrina Paige Aisenberg is active and ongoing. It is not, I want to emphasize, a cold case. There is no noncriminal explanation for the disappearance of a 5-month-old baby from her crib in the middle of the night. Either someone kidnapped the baby and violated state and federal law, or the parents know what happened to the baby and have not been forthcoming about it. Either way, that behavior would be criminal. We are going to continue to investigate as is standard and our expressed policy. We have no further comment. The Aisenbergs and others are still subjects of the ongoing and active investigation."
Patty Wetterling is another mother who has suffered a child abduction. Twenty years ago, her 11-year-old son Jacob was kidnapped at gunpoint half a mile away from their home and never seen again. Since Jacob's disappearance, Patty has become a true mother warrior. In 1994, she helped create the Jacob Wetterling Act, which requires sex offenders to register once they get out of prison.
Jaycee Dugard's rescue is another in a series of great saves, Patty says. "We need people to care and step forward. Trust your instincts," she says. "If you see something unusual, call the police. Our hope every day is that people don't stop giving up just because it's been a long time."
Though it's been two decades since Jacob was taken, Patty says she holds out hope he will return. "I do think there's a very, very strong possibility that Jacob's still alive," she says. "We have no proof to show that he's not."
Going on with life after a child abduction is hard, Patty says, but she has been determined to move forward. "I refused to let the man who took Jacob take anything else," she says. "You can't have my marriage. You can't have my other children. You can't have my sense that there's more good people in the world than bad."
Like the Aisenbergs, Patty says despite getting on with life, Jacob is always on her mind. "There are some happy moments in your life, but there will always be that hole in your heart," she says. "We know Jacob and the potential he had, and there's this hole that stays with you as you go forward."
Ten years ago, Patty wrote a letter to Jacob's captor. "I couldn't think of the abductor as a mean old man," she says. "I had had to think of him as a child. At one point he was 11."
Patty writes: "I wonder, were you ever like Jacob? Did you also love peanut butter? Did you sneeze when you looked at the sun? Did you play jokes on April Fool's Day? Jacob's not just a kid on a poster. His mom, dad,[and siblings] Amy, Carmen and Trevor miss him daily. He has dreams and hopes and potential."
The common bond between all abducted children is their potential, Patty says. "They deserve a chance. They deserve to come home," she says. "I just want Jacob to know that we love him. We never, ever gave up. We'll never quit searching, ever."
In Cleveland, Ohio, three young girls have disappeared within blocks of one another over the course of four years. Authorities believe their disappearances may be connected and are trying to piece together the puzzle.
Amanda Berry went missing on April 21, 2003. She would be 23 years old today. The night of her disappearance, Amanda was working a shift at Burger King. She left at about 7:30 p.m. and began walking away from work. That's the last time she was seen.
Gina DeJesus went missing on April 2, 2004. She would be 19 years old today. Gina was walking home from school with a friend just blocks from where Amanda Berry disappeared. Gina made a phone call from a pay phone, then started walking toward her home, about 1 mile away. That was the last time Gina was seen.
Ashley Summers went missing on July 6, 2007. She would be 16 years old today. Ashley voluntarily left her home that day, and there's been no legitimate sighting of her since.
On May 18, 1989, 2-year-old Christopher Dansby was abducted. He would be 22 years old today. His mother, Allison, says he was kidnapped from a park when she left him in the care of a family member for just a few moments.
Colleen Nick's daughter Morgan was taken on June 9, 1995 when she was 9 years old. She would be 21 years old today. Morgan was kidnapped from a little league baseball game.
"I do not believe that through some accident of fate Elizabeth Smart and Shawn Hornbeck and Jaycee Dugard are the only survivors of long-term abduction," Colleen says. "I believe that there are other children like them and like Morgan who are just simply waiting to be rescued."
Teekah Lewis disappeared on January 23, 1999. She was 2 years old and would be 13 today. Teekah's mother, Theresa, says she was at the bowling alley and Teekah was playing in the arcade nearby when she was taken.
"I just turned away for a minute and she was gone," Theresa says. "I believe my daughter's out there. ... I know she won't be that same little girl, but she's got sisters that want her to come home. She has a grandma that hasn't seen her in 10 years. We're talking about 11 birthdays. It's time to bring Teekah home."
If you have any information on any of these children, call 1-800-THE-LOST or visit MissingKids.com.