She found her photo as a missing girl and discovered her whole life was a lie. When a sevenyearold child spotted a photograph of herself in a supermarket, she didn’t realize the importance of what she was looking at. But this shopping trip was about to change her life for forever, and the lives of her loved ones would never be the same again. It’s a sad fact that more than 20 children go missing every single day in America. While many of them are abducted by people they don’t know, in most cases they are taken by relatives.
With over 8000 kids disappearing into thin air each year, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, many initiatives have been launched that aim to bring as many of them home as possible. One of the earliest of these was the milk carton campaign that stemmed from a harrowing case in the 1970s. This initiative started after a six year old called Eaton Pats went missing in Manhattan on May 25, 1979, while walking to the bus stop. It was only two blocks from the house, but he never made it there. His mother, Julie, called 911 as soon as she learned he hadn’t arrived at school.
As the hours turned into days, itan’s photo was displayed on news reports, glued to telephone poles, and eventually put on the side of milk cartons. In 1985, the very first dairy to put a missing child’s image on the side of its carton was Anderson and Ericsson Derry in September 1984 in Iowa after a paper boy called Johnny Gosh vanished. But Eaton’s case went countrywide as more and more dairies adopted the campaign.
The police fully supported this as it helped them reach hundreds of thousands of US citizens each morning as they sat down to have breakfast. There were 1600 independent dairies in the country, and by the start of 1985, 700 of them were on board trying to locate abducted children. President Reagan deemed May 25 National Missing Children’s Day, as this was the day that Eaton disappeared on his way to school. Sadly, his story doesn’t have a happy ending and his killer was finally convicted in 2017. This tale tells the story of Bonnie Lohmann, a sweet seven year old girl who lived an unconventional life with her mother and father.
Her life was changed forever when she spotted a milk carton that made her stop in her tracks. Bonnie lived on an island most people haven’t heard of. Bonnie was a typical kid who was naturally curious and loved to play. But unlike most children her age, she had never been to school. Her upbringing was atypical, but she was oblivious to the fact that she was unlike others, she had led a rather nomadic lifestyle, living with her parents in Hawaii and then on the tiny island of Saipan.
This relatively unknown place was part of the Northern Mariana Islands that is a US Commonwealth in the Pacific Ocean. It has a tiny population of fewer than 600 and is known for its Sandy beaches and mountainous landscapes. There was a little known battle here in 1944, but most people don’t even know of its existence. Eventually, after living in basic shacks and enjoying island life during her early years, the small family of three settled in Colorado and lived a quiet and unassuming life. Bonnie filled her days with toys and games, playing on her own or with her parents, and on a few rare occasions at her neighbor’s house in their small neighborhood.
It was a simple and fun childhood with no drama and very little excitement. She was rarely allowed to go outside, but she knew no different. Bonnie was a happy girl and she didn’t know what she was missing out by not going to school. She didn’t know how to read or write and couldn’t do basic arithmetic. Not that she was aware of what other children her age were doing.
The one place Bonnie was allowed to visit that always made her happy. Colorado was a fun place for Bonnie, even though it lacked the beaches that she’d grown up with during her time on the two Islands. Her parents loved her dearly and she had settled well in their new home. Even though she wasn’t allowed outside very often. She looked forward to the rare occasions where she was allowed to join one of her parents on a trip to buy groceries.
Bonnie always looked forward to those outings and would stare at all the items in the grocery store. She loved all the colorful packaging, even though she couldn’t read what was written on them. One day, Bonnie’s father called out that it was time for another grocery trip and Bonnie was allowed to go with him. Her face lit up and she raced to put her shoes on. As they made their way to the store, Bonnie took in the sights and sounds around her.
She loved these adventures, especially as they happen so infrequently. She savored every moment she was out and about with her dad. Bonnie knew to be on her best behavior or she wouldn’t be allowed to come out on future excursions. As Bonnie headed down the various aisles in the convenience store, she took in all the colors and shapes of the food and drink wrapping. She headed to the cool refrigerated section and looked at the numerous rows of yogurts, creams, and milk cartons.
Suddenly, her eyes were drawn to one milk carton in particular. She couldn’t stop staring. There was a photograph of a young girl imprinted on the side of it that looked so familiar. Bonnie recognizes the person in the photo, but what would her father think? The black and white image was that of a girl who was much younger than Bonnie.
Unbeknownst to her. The girl in the photo was three years old. It didn’t take long for Bonnie to realize that this girl on the side of the milk carton was a younger version of herself. She was mesmerized. She waited for her father to approach the dairy section and excitedly pointed up at the carton with sheer delight.
She hoped he would be as delighted as she was about this amazing discovery. She wanted to take a closer look. Would her father let her have this incredible find? Bonnie held her breath. Her father remained silent and handed the carton to her.
She loved seeing the photo of herself displayed so prominently on the packaging. This was one of the most exciting things to have happened in her short life and she was thrilled. She begged her father to buy it for her. He looked at her for a long time before making his decision. After what felt like an eternity, a smile went across his face and he said he’d buy it for her, but it would come with one very strict condition.
Her father asked Bonnie to do one important thing, but would she obey? When they came back home, the pair sat in the kitchen and drank from the special carton. Bonnie couldn’t stop staring at the photograph and felt famous. Her father gave her a stern stare and told her that he would cut out the image so long as she promised to do one thing. He would let her keep the photo, but only if she swore she would never show it to anyone else, not even her mother.
Bonnie would do anything to have the photo in her possession, so she quickly swore to her father that she would keep the promise. Bonnie was used to following rules and keeping secrets. Her father knew that if Bonnie made a promise, she would keep it. She had proven herself repeatedly in the past, so he had no reason to think she was lying to her. She didn’t ask him about any of the words on the carton, just staying transfixed on the photograph.
When the carton was empty, her dad grabbed a pair of scissors and carefully cut the whole side of the carton out for her. She had no idea that the word missing was on the photo. She’d been given Bonnie treasured the photo but had no idea that it was so important. Bonnie was too young to know about the milk carton campaign and was just delighted to have been given the photo to keep in her possession. She obeyed her father’s wishes and kept it hidden from everyone, including her mom.
The delightful young girl went back to her usual day of playing and using her imagination to while away the hours. She was proud that she didn’t say anything to her mother when she came back home and knew that her father would be pleased that she was following his strict rule. Bonnie was so happy and the photo went everywhere with her. The day that would change everything had started normally with one exciting difference. One day Bonnie was allowed to go to one of the neighbors houses to play.
She loved heading there, even though it didn’t happen very often. She was allowed to take some of her favorite toys to their house to play with. Bonnie put her chosen toys into a small box and headed next door for an afternoon of fun. And of course, she took her prized photo with her too. She made sure to hide it at the bottom of the box to keep her promise to her father.
She didn’t want the neighbor seeing it. Bonnie had a wonderful time at the house. She loved the change of scenery as sometimes she got bored of staring at the same walls of the family home. Being at her neighbor’s house was such fun and the hours passed far too quickly. When the time came for her to return home, she said her goodbyes and went back to her parents.
She’d had a lovely time and was grateful that she’d been allowed to spend her afternoon there. What Bonnie hadn’t realized was that she had completely forgotten to bring the box of toys with her. The neighbor discovered the box of toys and was about to return it to Bonnie when she suddenly spotted the black and white image inside. She stared at it, taking in the importance of what she was looking at. The photo looked like a much younger version of Bonnie holding a Teddy bear and the word missing screamed out at her.
The description underneath gave Bonnie’s name, date of birth, height, and weight. It also had the date that she went missing. The neighbor couldn’t believe what she was reading. There was a final line at the bottom of the photo that said Relationships mother in Reno, Nevada. As the facts sank in, there was only one course of action that this woman could take.
She reached for the phone and started to dial. In an instant, she was connected to the police and put through to an officer. The words fell out of her mouth as she scrambled to give them the details as quickly as possible. She was petrified that Bonnie’s parents would realize that the box and photo were still in her house. It was a race against time and Bonnie’s life was at stake.