The house where Polly Hannah Klaas once lived on Petaluma's Fourth Street has been repainted cheery red with bright white trim in the days since the 12-year-old was stolen from her bedroom during a sleepover with two friends.
A white picket fence and rose-covered trellis now border the sidewalk where her killer was seen lurking in advance of the abduction that brought disbelief, then despair to her family and community alike.
Life has gone on in the two decades since Polly's disappearance, the desperate two-month search that ensued and, finally, the discovery that the bright-eyed girl had lain dead all the while the world hoped for her safe return.
And yet, with the 20th anniversary of the day on which Polly vanished approaching on Tuesday, the memory of that time remains, for many, starkly fresh. The grief that mobilized 4,000 people to help find the seventh-grader is like an old wound still vulnerable to the slightest irritation.
"It's like yesterday," said Jerry Lapinski, long retired from his post as principal at Petaluma Junior High School, where Polly and her friends were only weeks into the school year when she was taken away.
The Oct. 1, 1993, kidnapping stands as a milestone in the life of Petaluma and the rest of Sonoma County, both because it was such a shock to a town county Supervisor David Rabbitt likened to the fictional Mayberry of the 1960s, and because of the community involvement it inspired.
Every parent felt the suffering of her mother, Eve Nichol, and her father, Marc Klaas, divorced nine years before. Every resident experienced the psychological blow of so profound a violation of the sanctity of home.
Raine Howe, executive director of the Polly Klaas Foundation, a permanent iteration of the search organization that bloomed when Polly vanished, said people still approach her at public events "able to describe exactly where they were and what they were doing" when key developments in the case unfolded.
Many in town say Polly's abduction and murder are lodged in their conscience the way the 9/11 terror attacks or the assassination of President John F. Kennedy reside in the American psyche.
"The history of it is embedded in the DNA of Petaluma," said Jay Silverberg, who joined the community search effort early on.
"Nobody will ever forget it," said Mayor David Glass.
Had the vivacious girl's disappearance been somehow different, perhaps it would not have resonated quite so deeply and her case not drawn the attention of the nation as it did.
But Polly should have been safe at home that Friday night, playing a board game with friends Kate and Gillian while her mom and 6-year-old sister slept nearby.
Instead, a bearded stranger slipped into the house unheard and entered her room, brandishing a knife and threatening the girls. He bound them and covered their heads with pillow cases before stealing into the night with Polly.
The intruder, a twice-convicted kidnapper named Richard Allen Davis whose criminal past included multiple, violent attacks on women, was indeed a stranger, with no connection whatsoever to Polly, her family or her life.
Davis, then 39, had spent most of his adult life in prison. He had been paroled to a Bay Area half-way house three months before he detoured into Petaluma on what he later claimed was a quest to track down his estranged mother. He stumbled on Polly instead.
The crime struck a chord that resounded near and far, stunning the town of what was then about 45,000, many of whom participated in search efforts, distributed fliers and broadcast the girl's picture in hopes someone somewhere might see her.
Days of waiting for word of her whereabouts turned into weeks, despite a round-the-clock, multi-agency investigation on which then-FBI Director Louis Freeh was said to have received daily briefings.
Polly, the girl with the warm smile, curly hair and penetrating eyes, became known across the country — the visage of a girl some called "America's Child" providing a symbol of the innocence many say was lost that year.
Finally, an East Santa Rosa woman hiking one Sunday morning through rugged, wooded property near her home off Pythian Road came upon scattered scraps and pieces of clothing that turned out to be a child's red tights, an adult sweatshirt and other random items, including an unwrapped condom.
The woman recalled for investigators how eight weeks earlier her babysitter had driven down the road and encountered a scary man, his car stuck in a ditch and his behavior both creepy and menacing.
Two sheriff's deputies who responded to reports of the trespasser that night questioned the man, unaware a little girl had been kidnapped about an hour earlier. Without finding cause to arrest or investigate him further, the deputies let him go. Authorities believe Polly probably had already been killed and left on the hillside. Davis' encounter with law enforcement as he left the crime scene likely prompted him to move her to another place so he would not be connected.