Laura Smither, a 12 year-old girl, was abducted on April 3, 1997, while jogging close to her home in Friendswood, Texas. Over 5,000 people took part in a massive search that covered over 800 square miles. Her body was found on April 20, 1997, near a pond 10 miles from her home. On April 23rd she would have been 13 years old.
You should not need to read these words, nor should I need to write them. There is no reason for Laura to be anything other than a little girl enjoying her first teenage year with her loving parents in a warm and secure community. In a world where everything is right and good, Laura would be finding her place in this life, she would be full of laughter and tears, growing in the way God meant little girls to grow.
In a world where we all recognize our love of life, Laura would not have been taken away from us. There would be no bad guys, no perversions, no pornography, no need to shelter and protect her from the evils that lurk in the shadows and under the rocks. We have come face to face with that evil, we have seen the horror, we have felt it strip our world apart as it stripped Laura of her life.
I did not know Laura, but I, as did the thousands who joined together in a massive search, felt our love for her grow with every step we took. She became the innocence of our youth, she became our daughter, she became the symbol of everything that was pure and decent in our lives. We walked through the mud, past the snakes and thorns, searching for any sign that she might have passed this way, but we did not want to find her. We wanted to hear that she was alive, that her abduction was all a big mistake and that her life, and ours, could return to normal.
Then we came face to face with the evil that took her life away from us. Laura came home, but not as we wanted. She returned to begin her final rest among her family and friends and we, the family and strangers who were united by her, bowed our heads and prayed. None of us can claim to have an understanding of the reasons for her passing, nor do we know what greater good has been served. Perhaps it is not our place to know.
But while we struggled with our tears, there came a moment when our prayers were over and all the words that could be said were set adrift into the silence of the universe. It was then that we opened our eyes and, still holding hands, looked into the souls of our neighbors. We stood together, housewives and soldiers, retired executives and farm workers, police officers and mechanics; we stood together as citizens of our neighborhood, our town, our state, our nation, our world. We held hands and saw not the evil that tried to rip us apart, but the unity that pulled us together.
Nothing will ever come close to replacing Laura's life. No moral lesson, no greater insight, no discovered truth will ever be equal to the sound of her laughter. We as a nation lost one of our greatest achievements -- a child full of hope for all the tomorrows. But in her loss, as we gathered in prayer, we gained the knowledge that we can stand together against the evil, that we can support one another, that we can offer one another our love. We found that our strength will not be torn apart by the criminals that kill our children, but instead will be made stronger by the common bond of our humanity.
And in that common bond we will always share a memory of a sweet, amazing 12 year-old child.
We will never forget you, Laura.