A Journey into the Children's Underground
by Allan Detrich
An excerpt from a note left by Amanda Meyer, with a friend.
"If you are reading this then I have run away. There are so many reasons why I did...Listen to the country song "Nobody Knows it But Me", by Kevin Sharp. It says a lot of what I'm feeling. Mom if you are reading this, I love you, don't try to find me. I miss you. So do something about these things for me and the other kids." - Mandy
For the last month Amanda has been in contact with Faye Yager in Atlanta planning her escape. Making her calls from pay phones with pre-paid phone cards.
The plan is that her father Brian Otter will drop off Amanda at a bus stop. She will then wait till he gets out of sight, tell her friends that she forgot something and walk back down the street towards her father's home. Instead of continuing to her home, she will take a left and walk to the end of a dead-end street where a car will be waiting to pick her up. The car is to have a purple ribbon tied on to the antenna. This is her ticket into the Children's' Underground for the second time.
The day has been put off several times due to school functions, or because of a holiday. Monday January 27th was the designated day, but because of a doctor appointment made by Otter, Tuesday the 28th will be the day.
Saturday, January 25, 1997
April Meyer, Amanda, Robyn, Matt and Molly all crowd around their mother as the five play games and make sand art throughout the afternoon. Amanda was the one who gets the closest spot to her mother. She knows in the back of her head that this will be the last weekend she will have to spend with her mother and family for a long time.
Sunday, January 26, 1997
The largest television event of the year blares from the nineteen-inch television in the corner of the spacious living room in the Meyers' home in Beaumont, CA. The Super Bowl is the farthest thing from being on the mind of Amanda at this point in time. It is her solo journey back into the "Children's Underground" without mother, occupies her brain. The minutes slowly tick away on the clock, making it closer to the time when her mother will have to return Amanda to her father's home. Just one more hour.
Amanda's bag is packed. Molly starts to cry, saying "I don't want Mandy to go, I don't want Mandy to go." Her other sister Robyn sobs too. After getting a long tight hug from Robyn, Amanda then gives her step-dad Chris a big hug also. None of them know that Amanda will not return to their home the next time that she is scheduled for visitation. She will be on the run by then.
Amanda slings her backpack over her shoulder and heads for the van with her mother. They slowly drive towards Yucaipa. Meyer pulls into Otter's driveway, and hugs her daughter very tightly, not wanting to let go. Amanda savors the warm, loving arms of her mother for the last time.
Tears soaked April Meyers' cheeks for the entire twenty-mile drive back home. This happens every time she drops her daughter off after a visit. On her way home, Meyer pulls into the Thrifty Mini-Mart to get gas and compose herself. Tears flowed from her eyes, like gasoline from the pump.
She looks forward to the next weekend with her daughter.
Monday, January 27, 1997
Amanda visits the doctor with her father Brian Otter; her big toe is red and swollen. She is given antibiotics and told to soak her foot. Today is the last day she will have to see her friends.
Tomorrow is the third date set for her disappearance. One of the last things she did at school is write a poem for her English class to express her feelings about her life.
Alone is being taken away from your family and being put with strangers.
Tuesday, January 28, 1997
Her big day has arrived. The apprehension of the unknown churns deep in her stomach. Chilly morning air hangs motionless in the valleys surrounding the small town of Yucaipa. If it rains, Otter would take Amanda directly to school, and her flight would be off. Today the weather is Amanda's friend. The eastern horizon glows brighter red with each passing minute. All of the plans that she worked so hard to make are coming to fruition.
6:50 a.m. A small white car waits on a side street for Amanda.
6:55 a.m. Otter drops off Amanda at the bus stop in front of the Yucaipa Christian Church. The welcome sign in front of the church reads: "Come as you are, but do not leave as you came." A message that almost seems tailor made for Amanda and her journey.
7:00 a.m. Lugging a heavy book bag, Amanda leaves the church and completes her walk to the designated meeting point. She is greeted by her escort from the Children's Underground, named "Sally." They head out of the city west on California 10.
7:30 a.m. They drive through San Bernadino; Amanda sits in the back seat crying, and staring out the window, wondering where she will end up.
9:15 a.m. The Los Angeles skyscrapers dwarf their car as they stop in the city to take a break.
10:10 a.m. Tears flow down Amanda's cheeks as she reads her poem about being alone to her escort Sally. She wrote the poem in her school literature class for an assignment, the day before she ran away.
12:05 p.m. Sally and Amanda stop for lunch. Not spending too much time, so they would stay on schedule. Lunch takes just over a half-hour, and they hit the road again.
6:00 p.m. Sally stops to call Faye Yager for further instructions. Amanda lies in the back seat crying, lit by only streetlights hiding from pedestrians. She wonders if her mother knows by now. For sure her father does, she was due home from school more than three hours ago.
6:45 p.m. Sally and Amanda get back on the road as they embark on the final leg of their trip.
8:30 p.m. Sally and Amanda drive to their destination, a safe house. The garage door is open, Sally drives in and the door closes, not letting any of the neighbors to see the visitors that were just swallowed by the automatic garage door.
Alone is being taken away from your family and being put with strangers....
Curious heads poke out of the door at the top of the stair, first one, then two, three and four. The family that will become Amanda's new protectors curiously watch as Sally and Amanda unload the car trunk. Amanda is greeted with a great big hug from her new family, just as if she was member of the family, being welcomed home after a long absence.
This is her second time back into the family. The extended family of Faye Yager, and the Children's Underground. Her escort "Sally" said goodbye with a hug and a kiss. She slipped out of Amanda's' life as swiftly and silently as she picked her up a day earlier in Yucaipa.
Amanda is quickly made to feel at home by her new family. She is fed dinner and made her soak her big toe. Amanda, who is exhausted, starts to fall asleep because of her long day of travel. The mother and daughters go into a bedroom make Amanda's' bed and she is then tucked her in for the night. The father comes in and says a prayer for Amanda, her mother and family. He thanks God for delivering her safely and seeks guidance for the coming days.
Amanda had made it through the hardest day, her first day on the run.
Wednesday, January 29, 1997
Alone is when you can't talk to your family when you want to....
Amanda slept soundly and stirs from her slumber around 9:00 a.m. The family has already gone to their school and work; Amanda spends much of the day at home by herself. She had a bagel for breakfast and spent most of the morning watching the movie "The Sound of Music." Every now and then she takes a moment now and then to look through the drawn shades. Hoping that the noises that she hears, is not someone coming to get her.
Alone is not being able to talk to people without them judging you....
Her memories of the day they were caught two years ago seem like a dream from her childhood. She was at school and remembers being called into the school principals' office, and seeing her mother, surrounded by FBI agents. Her mother told her it would be all right, and to not cry.
Her new "sisters" got home from school and quickly got down to the business of making friends. They played games, talked about school, science projects and shared a bowl of chocolate chips. Amanda stares at the pages of a new book, not really reading, and her mind drifts to thoughts of her mother. Faye said to her that she had hoped that this situation could be resolved in less than six months, she hopes so too.
Alone is acting happy all the time when you really aren't....
Amanda has taken the plunge to change her own destiny. She says that she looks at this journey as being a "foreign exchange student," she will be able to meet lots of new people, see new cities and places.
For the first few months Amanda adjusted to her new name, "Beth," which she picked, to help keep her real identity a secret. She memorized the television schedule of her choice, as she waited for her Underground "Sisters" to return home from their schools. Beth was not allowed to be seen out in public until the local schools had let out for the day, so that her presence in the streets would not draw attention to her.
As the months went on some significant dates passed that made her running hard on her mentally. First, Mothers Day was hard, then came her mothers' birthday, which was even harder. Even on ordinary days, she has crying spells, when she thinks about her family too much.
Alone is crying at night and have no one to comfort you.....
It was decided that she would have to get her hair cut in a different style. She normally kept her hair one length and very long. So short it became. A friend of her new family, who is a beautician, and a survivor of sexual abuse as a child, volunteered to do the haircut in her home. Tears flowed down Beth's cheeks as hair dropped to the floor. She now looks about three years younger.
Alone is feeling like no one cares.....
In early April Beth was measured-up for a school uniform. Her family had made arraignments for her to go to school in a small Christian school affiliated with their church. The Principal and the Pastor of the church are aware of Beths' situation. They agreed to let her attend, under her new assumed name. Her acceptance was swift; she was placed in a seventh grade class, which had only seven kids. Her biggest worry about starting school was not getting caught, but was what kind of shoes she would wear. After a few weeks she had friends, talked on the phone at night, and went to sleepovers. Almost like any other seventh grader in her class. Except for her secret.
Alone is knowing the ones who do care, can't help you..... The school year passed swiftly and the pressure from the police was increasing, as her father and the California "Missing Children Clearinghouse" placed Amandas' photo on their Internet web site around the first of May. Posters were being tacked-up all over southern California. Otter himself stapled some to telephone poles one hundred yards from Meyers' home in Beaumont. Fearing the worst, Faye, decided to move Beth from the place that had kept her safe for over six months. To somewhere that will be safe for her again. A place to keep her away from her father, but also away from the person she loves the most, her mother.
Alone is my life....