This story was published in the Post-Dispatch on July 28, 2002
The tension St. Louis area parents feel after the murder Friday of Cassandra "Casey" Williamson -- not to mention a string of other child abductions across the country this summer -- can't compare with the fear that gripped the region nine years ago.
At least this time, police quickly arrested a suspect. In the fall of 1993, two girls from north St. Louis County were abducted within a few weeks of each other while walking near their homes.
The body of the first victim, Angie Marie Housman, 9, of St. Ann, was found four days before Cassidy Senter, 10, disappeared near her home north of Bridgeton. Cassidy's body turned up eight days later.
Both murders, police recall, set the area on edge for days, wondering if a killer was in their midst and when and where he might strike again.
"It was a panic situation in the St. Louis area," said Florissant Mayor Robert Lowery Sr., who headed a major case squad investigating Angie Housman's death when he was that city's police chief.
This time, St. Louis County Police Chief Ron Battelle said, a quick arrest has brought closure "not just for the victim's parents, but for all parents."
Unfortunately, closure hasn't followed many child abductions in the St. Louis area over the past several years.
Cassidy Senter's killer was found, but Angie Housman's murder is among a handful of child killings in the region that have never been solved.
Most recently, Heather Kullorn, 12, disappeared in July 1999 from an apartment in Richmond Heights. Police have received leads, but made no arrests. Also unsolved are the cases of:
* Donna Jean Mezo, 16, who was visiting relatives in Belleville when she disappeared in 1992.
* Arlin Henderson, 11, who disappeared in 1991 riding his bicycle near Moscow Mills in Lincoln County.
* Scott Allen Kleeschulte, 9, who disappeared near his St. Charles home on the night of a fierce thunderstorm in 1988.
Another case, that of Gina Dawn Brooks, who disappeared in 1989 from Fredricktown, Mo., only recently produced criminal charges. Nathan D. "Danny" Williams, a convicted child rapist serving a 30-year sentence without parole, is still awaiting trial in Brooks' death.
A leading child abduction expert, David Finkelhor, said the vast majority of child kidnappings are solved.
Moreover, Finkelhor, a professor at the University of New Hampshire, reminds parents that despite the recent string of high-profile abductions nationwide, there's no evidence that child abductions are on the rise. In fact, he said, abductions and murders of a girl as young as Casey are particularly rare.
Lowery and Battelle said a child abduction of any kind breeds fear, but that fear is amplified when no arrests are made. Lowery recalls the days after the deaths of the two North County children, when parents were afraid to let their kids walk to a bus stop alone.
Lowery doubts that parents are feeling that kind of fear now, because Casey Williamson apparently wasn't snatched up in public and the man arrested for her killing wasn't a complete stranger.
But Lowery hopes parents will take a lesson from the specifics of Friday's murder.
"People have to be aware of the people that have contact with their children," he said.