Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

TOP STORY >> Keep up guard, victim’s mother warns students

Leader staff writer

Beth Holloway Twitty, the mother of Natalee Holloway, an Alabama high school graduate who vanished almost a year ago while on a trip in Aruba, told The Leader Tuesday the release of a 10th suspect in her daughter’s disappearance was “another disappointment.”

Twitty, a speech teacher from Birmingham, Ala., was in Cabot speaking to several hundred Cabot High School students about the importance of keeping their guard up while traveling abroad. The day before, she spoke at Lonoke High School.

“We picked this time of year because a lot of juniors and seniors will be traveling this summer,” said Lonoke County Sheriff Jim Roberson, who coordinated Twitty’s local speaking engagements.

She has spoken to about 10,000 students in 12 states in recent weeks.

Twitty told the students the last time she saw her daughter alive was May 26, when she drove Natalee to the airport.
“She was so happy and excited,” Twitty said.

Natalee Holloway, 18, went missing last May, during a graduation trip to the small island with 124 of her Mountain Brook High School, Ala., classmates. The last time anyone saw Natalee, she was leaving Carlos’ n Charlie’s, a popular tourist bar and grill in Oranjestad, Aruba, at 1:30 a.m. May 30 with Joran van der Sloot, 17, Deepak Kalpoe, 21, and Satish Kalpoe, 18, in Deepak’s gray Honda.

“Natalee had a false sense of security with her many friends there. She was too confident and she felt safe and she let her guard down for a moment and in that moment she was kidnapped, raped and most likely murdered,” Twitty said.
Twitty learned of her daughter’s disappearance on May 31 when the travel agent called to tell her Natalee had missed her return flight from the Dutch Caribbean island. Twitty, her husband George Joe Twitty, along with several other concerned parents boarded a plane and arrived in Aruba at 11 p.m. May 31 where they found Natalee’s passport, neatly packed luggage, and mobile phone in her hotel room.

Her mother told students if the phone had international calling activated, Natalee might have been able to call for help.
“Natalee’s international calling wasn’t activated. That weighs heavily on my heart when I remember her hotel room,” Twitty said.

The Twittys and hundreds of volunteers spent a month in Aruba searching for Natalee everywhere, including the island’s crack houses and brothels. It was 10 days before anyone was taken into custody for questioning.

“Those 10 days gave the suspects time to clean up, corroborate their stories and hire lawyers,” Twitty said.
She was optimistic several times in the past year that the case would be solved, but her hopes were dashed when police on the Caribbean island later released other potential suspects. The most recent suspect had been working as a card dealer in an Aruba casino at the time of Natalee’s disappearance. Identified only as Guido W. by authorities, he was taken into custody in Holland.

As part of her International Safe Travels Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to provide safety information to travelers, Twitty urged students traveling overseas to be aware of their surroundings and keep up with friends.
“You are responsible for your own safety,” she said.

“It’s been almost a year now since living every parent’s worst nightmare,” she said. “I don’t know what happened to Natalee, I don’t know where she is, I don’t know whether she is alive or not. It doesn’t look good,” Twitty said.

“I can’t make you understand the emptiness I feel when I wake up every single morning. I can’t describe to you the pain of walking past her bedroom door every day. I pray that your parents will never experience my pain,” Twitty told the students following a short film paying tribute to Natalee.

The film showed graduation photos of Natalee set to the song “Natalee, Where Are You Now?” written by Erika Harvey of Nashville, Tenn.

“I want the kids to walk away with a heightened sense of personal safety awareness,” Twitty told The Leader.

“We want to show them that there are challenges and consequences that they could face should they be a victim of a crime in a foreign country.”

For more information visit ww.safetravelsfoundation.org.

Arkansas News Bureau contributed to this report.