By Colleen Quinn
Cambridge- Senate President Therese Murray promised advocates of missing children Monday that lawmakers would pass legislation targeting human trafficking.Cambridge —
The Plymouth Democrat made her commitment as Magi and John Bish, whose daughter Molly went missing in 2000, gathered with a group of parents at the State House to mark something no parent ever wants to make note of – their missing children.
The Bishes returned to the state capitol Monday for the 11th annual Massachusetts Missing Children’s Day. They come every year to bring attention to abductions and to missing children never found. Currently, 38 children are missing in the state, according to the Molly Bish Foundation.
Attorney General Martha Coakley thanked the Bishes for reminding law enforcement about “all the people who are touched by a missing child.” Coakley is pushing for Massachusetts to pass legislation that would establish state crimes of human trafficking in labor and sex. She wants to create a task force to study human trafficking, and increase the penalties for “Johns” to target the demand side of trafficking in prostitution. Massachusetts is one of four states in the nation that does not have human trafficking laws.
“We have this problem right in our own backyard,” Coakley said.
The Bish Foundation presented Murray with a legislative award and Murray said it was important to hold the event annually as a reminder of all the missing children.
“The devastation, I can’t imagine losing your child, and not knowing what happened or where, and that they won’t come back. I can’t imagine it,” Murray said.
Speaking to the trafficking bill, Murray said, “God we will pass that human trafficking” bill.
Magi Bish said she comes year after year and relives the horror she went through when her daughter was abducted and murdered because she wants lawmakers and law enforcement officials to recognize the dangers that exist for children. Bish said she would tell every parent to make sure their children know there are people who could hurt them, and teach them how to protect themselves.
“You need to have your child have awareness, to be smart,” she said. “We need to give them the tools to be safe.”
During the summer of 2000 Molly Bish was taken from Comins Pond in Warren where she was working as a lifeguard. Her mother had just dropped her off for work. Her body was found three years later, but her killer was never caught.
“Eleven years ago we decided we needed to do something. We need to work with the Legislature to make sure our children are safe,” said Bish, who launched the Molly Bish Foundation to advocate for tougher laws surrounding child abduction and child abuse.
Another parent of an abducted child, Bob Curley, said his son was taken from his East Cambridge home and murdered in 1997. Jeffrey Curley was a 10-year-old boy who was sexually assaulted and murdered by two men who promised him a new bike if he went with them. His body was found days later in a river in southern Maine. The two men were convicted and sent to jail. Curley said he felt “more fortunate” than other parents of abducted children because his son’s body was found, and he was able to “bring him home.”
In the fall of 1997, Curley’s murder ignited an emotionally-charged debate to reinstate the death penalty in Massachusetts, which came one vote shy of passing. The Senate had approved a bill that would have allowed prosecutors to seek the death penalty in 15 categories of first-degree murder. But the House doomed the capital punishment bill in a tied 80-80 vote. Former Rep. John Slattery (D-Peabody) flipped his vote at the last minute, and prevented the measure from passing. At the time, Gov. Paul Cellucci slammed Slattery after discovering the death penalty lacked one vote of support.
During Monday’s Missing Children’s Day, one particularly emotional moment came during the event when the mother of a young girl kidnapped 10 years ago collapsed on the floor crying. She was helped to her feet by Gov. Deval Patrick, who tried to comfort her.
After a short pause in the ceremony, Bish told those assembled, “Our hearts are quite broken. They never quite heal. Keep us in your prayers.” Patrick then hugged Bish for several moments before he left the event.
A few minutes earlier, Patrick relayed a story from his own life when one of his daughters, Sarah, disappeared for a few minutes when she was 4 years old. They were waiting for a relative at Logan Airport when he turned around for a minute, and when he turned back she was gone, Patrick said.
“It was 10 minutes, maybe 15. I had no idea where this little girl was,” Patrick said, adding he found her sitting under a security desk, where a security guard told her to wait while they looked for her father.
“That 10 or 15 minutes left an incredible hold in my heart and my soul. I cannot even imagine what it is like to carry that around for months, for years,” Patrick said. “That ache has got to be just as fresh after a long period of time as it was in that first 10 or 15 minutes.”
Patrick called the Missing Children’s Day a “sober” but important occasion and promised the families that lawmakers would do whatever they could to make sure children are safe.
Sen. Stephen Brewer (D-Barre), who represents the area where Bish was killed, said he was forever changed the day she disappeared.
“It is seared in our memories. It is part of who we are. It is always in our consciousness,” said Brewer, who hosted the group.
Brewer told the parents that lawmakers “are resolute in this building and in Washington D.C.” in trying to better protect children.