On the night of Oct. 1, 1993, 12-year-old Polly Hannah Klaas was kidnapped from her Petaluma home and murdered by Richard Allen Davis.
Although it has been 20 years since that tragic event, for those who lived here during the months immediately following Polly's abduction, the feelings of shock and sadness that enveloped this community are easy to recall. Longtime community members will also remember how residents and business people here came together like never before and gave generously of their time and money in a desperate but ultimately unsuccessful search to find Polly alive. Such intense commitment on the part of the entire community showed the country what Petaluma is all about.
In the two decades that have passed since Polly's death, some positive changes have been made to help prevent such horrible tragedies from happening. Much of what is standard policy now in the realm of child-safety practices is a direct result of the Polly Klaas kidnapping and murder. More efficient police procedures and services are now in place to search for missing children, including the Amber Alert program, a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies, media and the wireless industry to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child-abduction cases. New state and federal crime laws have been enacted, and there is greater public awareness of habitual violent offenders and child safety issues in general.
The Polly Klaas Foundation continues to help to educate the public on the prevention of child abductions, assisting in the search for missing children and holding child safety fairs. To date, the Petaluma-based organization has helped 8,500 families across America to find their missing children.
The KlaasKids Foundation has also worked to raise awareness of children's safety issues and to lobby for stricter sentencing for repeat offenders.
On Friday, Oct. 4, at 6:30 p.m., the Polly Klaas Foundation will host “An Evening of Commemoration and Hope” at the Petaluma Community center where former FBI agent Ed Freyer, who was instrumental in solving Polly's case, will speak.
The gathering, which will feature local youth performing in Polly's memory, will be a bittersweet reunion of community volunteers who pitched in and tried in vain to find the missing girl who loved music, drama and singing.
Sometimes, a terrible price is paid to effect positive change. Polly's enduring legacy is that her death made the world a safer place for other children.