DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (BP)–Moments before the end of a nationwide search for two kidnapped girls and their abductors, the group was being engaged in conversation by two Baptist students participating in Beach Reach 1997 at Daytona Beach, Fla.
Charity Holdredge, a Baptist Student Union volunteer from Truett McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga., was unaware the two girls she befriended at the BSU-sponsored pancake breakfast were kidnap victims.
Minutes after the group ate at the March 26 event, the two kidnapped Michigan girls, Jessica Hainer, 6, and Teresa Hainer, 9, were found unharmed by Daytona Beach police, ending a four-day nationwide search. The two disappeared Friday after stepping off a school bus in Galesburg, a small town west of Kalamazoo.
Their three alleged abductors, one a convicted sex offender, were arrested in a Daytona Beach gift shop and charged with federal kidnapping. They had been spotted walking with the girls along U.S. A1A about 9 a.m.
The pancake breakfast was part of activities planned for Beach Reach, a week-long witnessing thrust that brought college BSU groups to Florida beaches during spring break. The week was sponsored by the Baptist Sunday School Board’s National Student Ministries department and the local Baptist association.
According to Holdredge, when the Michigan group had arrived at the free pancake breakfast on Tuesday, Georgia Baptist disaster relief volunteers made pancakes in the shape of Mickey Mouse for the girls.
She reported the girls were dirty and looked as if their hair had not been washed in days. “The older girl was distant” and could not be engaged in conversation, Holdredge said. The younger girl was “playful,” falling in the sand, playing under the tables.
On Tuesday, authorities filed kidnapping charges against Ricky Greer, 19, and two men who know the girls’ family: convicted sex offender Ronald Stafford, 21, and brother Lee Stafford, 17.
Alan Keen, a Truett McConnell sophomore, talked to three men, who said they were passing through the area. One of the men claimed to be the father of the girls.
However, Keen quickly added, none of the men “seemed to be protective of the children” as a parent would.
When the student asked of their spiritual condition, one of the men said he grew up in a Christian home. The men quickly turned their attention to feeding pancakes to the seagulls.
Keen called the chance meeting “a growing experience,” which will give him certain aspects to look out for in the future. But the student resisted the idea he will become more suspicious of persons in the future. “That will prevent us from getting out and witnessing to others.”
Nearly 200 BSU students were involved in Beach Reach at Daytona Beach, according to Dennis Belz, interim director of missions for the Halifax Baptist Association. By Wednesday, 10 persons had made professions of faith. More than 500 persons were served breakfast each day.