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Running for Natalie

Beth Holloway Visits Augusta To Attend Fundraising Run

Augusta Prep senior Maggie McLeod (left) and junior Amanda Murphy (right) are pictured with Beth Holloway

Augusta Prep senior Maggie McLeod (left) and junior Amanda Murphy (right) are pictured with Beth Holloway

Photo courtesy of Marian Yu

Augusta Preparatory Day School students, Maggie McLeod, 18, and Amanda Murphy, 17, love to run. The two cross-country runners channeled that love toward a good cause, the Natalie Holloway Resource Center (NHRC), when they inspired their school, a bevy of sponsors and other students to hold a 5K race to raise money and awareness for the cause.

The run, held February 25, brought 230 runners to the Augusta Prep campus, raising more than $8,000 for the NHRC. Plans for the race began in August with student, faculty and community sponsors working together.

While the pair knew the run would please Beth Holloway, the mother of Natalie Holloway, the teen who vanished in 2005 while visiting Aruba on a senior class trip, they weren’t sure whether Beth would come to Augusta for the event. But a letter delivered directly to Beth’s home, her address located through a family friend who lives in Birmingham, Ala., brought the bereaved mother to Augusta to speak to the entire Augusta Prep Upper School student body.

Beth told the audience that she felt a special connection to students this age, as Natalie was very active in her high school, participating in clubs and the dance team. Natalie had been accepted into the honors program at the University of Alabama with a full scholarship. “She had big plans of living in the dorm and going through sorority rush,” she says. But the events on May 30, 2005, meant those plans would not come to fruition.

A Mother’s Worst Fear

“I’m here to bring you Natalie’s story,” Beth tells the audience. “It’s still making headlines today. My daughter was kidnapped and murdered on the last night of the trip. I had warned her of the dangers, especially regarding nightclubs and alcohol, date rape drugs. I had talked to her about not leaving her drink unattended.” Beth says she even reviewed safety precautions on their way to the airport.

“As parents, we want to make sure our children have everything they need, but just four days later my cell phone rang and in an instant my life was changed forever.” Natalie, who was always on time and where she was expected to be, hadn’t shown up at the airport. Beth immediately went to Aruba and found Natalie’s cell phone and packed suitcase in her room. “She was last seen leaving a nightclub. She may have thought she was getting into a taxi. Joran van der Sloot, who had claimed to be a 19-year-old tourist in Aruba for the summer, staying at the same hotel as Natalie, told many lies. He was 17, not a tourist and not staying in the hotel.”

Beth went to van der Sloot’s house, where he described the sexual contact he had with Natalie in the back of a car while she was falling asleep and waking up. He said he had dropped her off at the hotel, but on the fourth day after arriving in Aruba, at 3 a.m., hotel security knocked on her door and to tell her that there was no sign of Natalie on the security tapes. “Another lie Joran had told us.”

People at home and all over the country showed support. Yellow bows were tied to mailboxes all over her hometown. Natalie’s friends made and distributed special prayer bracelets signifying Ecclesiastes 4:12, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” There was an outpouring of support in the community and a “Wall of Hope” was set up for prayers and messages. “I received cards and letters from every one of our states and as far away as Jerusalem.”

Over the course of the investigation, Beth says Van der Sloot gave 22 different accounts. He confessed on tape that Natalie was having seizures and that he wasn’t sure if she was alive or not when he disposed of her body. Beth believes Van der Sloot gave Natalie an overdose of the date rape drug, which produced the seizures. “He just decided to get rid of her. She isn’t his only victim. He murdered another beautiful woman.”

Empowering Students To Make Safety a Priority

Beth says she “could have crawled in a hole, but we all have a choice in how to live.” She believes the best choice she can make is to share Natalie’s story, hoping other families can avoid this devastation.

“You also have choices to make,” she tells the students. “Don’t leave a group with someone you don’t know. Don’t drink underage. Don’t leave your drink unattended.”

Beth explained to the students that parent’s don’t teach them how to stay safe to frighten them, but to make them aware of the dangers out there. “You’re excited about your newfound independence. You’re too old to be guarded by your parents 24 hours a day and too young not to be reminded.” Beth says that everyone should be aware that they are responsible for their own safety. “What if Natalie and a friend had made a plan to leave together?”

She cautioned the students not to allow themselves to get in a condition or situation where they no longer have control of themselves, such as when they might over-consume alcohol. “You are your best protection,” she says.

Beth says she was confident that she had taught Natalie all the things she needed to know, but “she had a false sense of safety—she was too confident and let her guard down for a moment and she vanished.”

When traveling out of the country, Beth reminded students that there aren’t the same dedicated law officials as in the U.S. You can’t call 911. She recommends going to www.mayday360.com, an organization she founded that provides services to those traveling abroad.

Beth also recommends getting international services activated on your cell phone before leaving our borders. The NHRC has many lists of travel and college safety tips. According to the Web site, www.helpthemissing.org, the center, “focuses on educational programs, including a traveling safe program, crime prevention and encourages careers in the fields of forensic science and law enforcement.” The center also provides assistance to families of missing persons.

“Make your own personal safety plan and remember—you have to have your own back,” she says.

Karin Calloway is an Evans wife and mother of two and is the editor of Augusta Family Magazine.

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