Things got way too real in New Hope, PA last weekend. A young woman disappeared while walking home from a night with friends, and within hours of her vanishing the word went out: Find Sarah.
By the next day, search parties were spreading in the neighborhoods she’d walked through. A Facebook page was started, and a Twitter account. Maps were printed, posters put up, supplies for the searchers were donated. People loved this woman, and they threw themselves into the search for her. Hundreds searched in person; thousands liked her Facebook page. She had an amazing smile, and devoted friends, and something about her really got to people; if sheer love could’ve done the trick, it would’ve. There was plenty of it.
But she remained unfound. Her route home crossed several bridges and might have run along a canal. Divers went under the ice, and the film from the cameras that watched the bridges was examined. The divers found nothing but the film showed her crossing the bridge, then turning onto a street no camera covered.
And then she vanished. She’d done the walk literally thousands of times over the years; she had no reason to fear it. But seeing the film, you want to reach out, to pull her back. Or to run the tape back, send her another way, not let her meet what we know about but she doesn’t.
We can’t, though. So that’s the last anyone saw of her, turning the corner, striding innocently and energetically into her final moments…until last night. A photographer spotted a boot in the canal when the weather had warmed up enough for the ice to release it. Soon afterwards, searchers discovered a body that fit the description of the missing young woman, and not long after that officials announced that she’d been found.
If this were fiction, there’d be more: a motive, a culprit, a resolution. But it’s not, so there isn’t. They recovered her body; they took it away. Her death was probably an accident (though even that’s not yet certain); it was icy that night, and probably she just slipped.
I don’t want to make a lesson out of it, especially since it’s likely that she wasn’t even a crime victim. But it seems to me that we who write about crime might do well to remember this girl and how important she was, how beloved. She wasn’t wealthy, she wasn’t famous, she wasn’t any of those things, but she mattered tremendously.
So in our hurry to create picturesque-ly evil villains, ones who are believable and well motivated and just bizarre enough to be fascinating, let’s not forget the victims, is all I’m saying. Because the ordinary victims, the ones with the thousand-watt smiles that only their friends see, they’re the ones who really make accidents tragic and crime evil…or so it seems to me on this morning after they found Sarah.