Missing since June 2, 2013, 19-month old Elaina Steinfurth disappeared from an east side neighborhood of Toledo, Ohio, when her father, T. J. Steinfurth, went to pick up Baby Elaina and her four-year old sister who were staying with her mother, Angela Steinfurth and her mother’s boyfriend, Stephen King II, at the boyfriend’s family’s home.
A search began immediately for the toddler that included the nearby Maumee River. There was no sign of the missing toddler and eventually authorities were told Baby Elaina had been injured seriously, but not treated medically. Her mother and now estranged boyfriend were arrested for obstructing justice mid-June.
The search for Baby Elaina may have ended last week when a box containing human remains was found in the rafters of a detached garage. Police had searched the entire neighborhood, including the garage. The box with the remains was behind other objects and a pile of trash after cadaver dogs were used to pinpoint its location.
“We found what we believe may be Baby Elaina,” Toledo Police Chief Derrick Diggs told reporters.
However, Baby Elaina’s grandfather, Richard Schiewe blames the police for not doing more to find his granddaughter and says the area was searched thoroughly and the box was not there during the initial search. However, police received information about the box's location late last week.
“That box was not there because I took everything out of the rafters in the days after she went missing,” Baby Elaina's grandfather said in an interview with Toledo’s affiliate NBC station, WNWO, after the box containing what is now believed to be the remains of Baby Elaina was found last Thursday.
According to WNWO, King told the police where to find the box and its location was pinpointed by cadaver dogs, leaving Baby Elaina's father, T. J. Steinfurth baffled, since the detached garage where the box was found was only a few yards from where vigils have been held to pray for his daughter's safe return.
"I can tell you it's just speculation but I heard today that it is my granddaughter," distraught grandfather, Richard Schiewe told newscasters. "I'm still holding onto hope that it is not her, but at the end of the day you have to be realistic to some degree. The Lucas County Coroner may have a positive identification as early as today.
These types of stories about missing children, often later found like Baby Elaina, if found at all, are in the news and children are likely to hear about them. Children with special needs, as well as young children may be frightened when they hear that children have disappeared and/or harmed.
Classic fairy tales, such as “Hansel and Gretel” they may have seen on TV or that may have been read to them, often depict children being victimized by witches, goblins, or the proverbial boogy man. How do you help children who fear abduction get over this very real and present fear that has become more and more common?
1. First, explain to your child, if you are a parent, that s/he is safe at home and school and that when s/he leaves home s/he will be protected by parents, neighbors, teachers and school staff, and other people in the community such as bus drivers, health care providers, ministers, and most importantly, police officers. Children should be taught to treat police officers with respect and talk to them politely, answering questions when asked or asking for help when needed. Children also need to understand that police officers have weapons that they may not touch or try to grab under any circumstances.
2. While in school, children need to be told that they should always be with an adult staff person and stay with their class so they will be safe at school. Review all safety procedures and protocols for behavior when approached by a stranger or someone acting suspicious and/or threatening them. Standard precautionary training such as reminding children not to talk to strangers and run and yell for help if someone attempts to grab them still applies. This applies to strangers, as well as people who may work in the school and to children who may try to harm them or bully them.
3. If children ask questions about Baby Elaina or other missing children whose faces are seen on Amber Alerts, posters, and elsewhere, be honest with them. At home show them that windows and doors are locked so no one can get it. If they are afraid of a basement or an attic, take them down or up to the place they may be afraid someone is hiding waiting to take them away and show them that no one is there. The same thing is true of garages, sheds, or other places nearby. This procedure may have to be done frequently during searches for a missing child to provide reassurance and make a child feel safe at home.
4. At school, children should be assured that they are safe and that strangers cannot walk into the school and take a child out of the building or off the grounds. They should be shown the safety precautions that have been taken to assure that no one comes into the school without permission and that they cannot be abducted from the school building or grounds. Also, children may be concerned about a missing child and want to talk about it. This is a good way to help children understand empathy and concern for others. Have them act out how they would comfort a child that has been hurt or is scared. Make sure each child has an opportunity to show concern and practice providing comfort.
5. In the community, make sure your child or students understand that staying close to an adult at all times is important. It only takes a moment for a child to be abducted, so make sure a child or group of children are in sight at all times while out in the community, whether going to a store, restaurant, or park or a school field trip to a museum, the zoo, or local library. Train them to locate police officers or security guards when out in the community, so they can get help if needed. It is important to teach children with special needs to scream “No!” loudly if someone tries to make them do something they do not want to do (teach your child or students when this is appropriate behavior and when it is not and reinforce appropriate behavior); this could save a child’s life.
6. If a child have nightmares at home about being abducted, provide comfort by holding, letting him/her sit on your lap, whatever it takes to ease the fear and give comfort so a child who has had a nightmare can fall back to sleep feeling safe. A child may want to sleep with a parent after a frightening dream and a parent should allow this after news of a child abduction or murder to provide reassurance and comfort. Once the situation is resolved, either because the child is found or it has been determined that the child is dead or has disappeared and cannot be found, help your child feel safe in his/her own bed, perhaps leaving the light on at night for a while.