Missing on Staten Island: Jennifer Schweiger Was Found. What About the Other Kids?
It was one of the hottest summers on Staten Island. My mother had just placed a fan inside the living room window of our two bedroom home. As she fixed breakfast, the telephone rang. It was our neighbor. "A little girl around the corner was kidnapped last night," he said, "did you hear about it?" No. She hadn't heard about it. As she listened to the details, the tiny hairs on her arms stood up. How could a seven-year-old girl vanish into thin air?
Later that evening, as my mother watched the news, she heard the little girl's name for the first time - Holly Ann Hughes.
Kidnappings were a rare occurance on Staten Island and there hadn't been one since 1972. Parents in the neighborhood forbid their children to leave the yard. Neighbors began talking about a suspicious, dark green, Volkswagen beetle. Our little Staten Island community was in a serious panic. Where was Holly Ann Hughes? She had walked to the store to buy soap for her mother and she never came back.
Two years later, another hot summer brought feelings of déjà vu to Staten Islanders.
We had just moved to a different Staten Island neighborhood when the news reported that a 10-year-old Staten Island girl was abducted. Again, the kidnapping took place a few blocks away from our home.
Tiahease Tiawanna Jackson went to the supermarket at 1:30 on August 14, 1983 - in a busy neighborhood, in pure daylight - never to be seen or heard from again.
It was the first summer I was allowed to ride my bike more than 2 houses away from my home. I was seven years old. I'll never forget that Thursday: My parents told me to put my bike away and come in the house. Hurry! Get in the house! The news just broke: Another little girl was abducted on Staten Island.
On July 9, 1987, Jennifer Schweiger, a 12-year-old with Down's syndrome, went out for a walk and never returned home. She was a student at the Staten Island elementary school I attended.
A massive search was conducted on Staten Island. In addition to law enforcement, Jennifer Schweiger's parents searched high and low for their daughter. The community pulled together to search different areas of Staten Island. Thirty-five days were spent searching for Jennifer Schweiger. Her body was found buried in a shallow grave on the grounds behind the former Willowbrook State School, which is now the College of Staten Island.
Jennifer Schweiger was last seen walking alongside a homeless man with a bicycle. The man was identified as Andre Rand, a sex offender with a criminal record. Rand, who was born with the name Frank Rashan, was arrested several days later.
Andre Rand was suspected in the disappearances of several Staten Island children prior to Jennifer's disappearance. These children include: Alice Pereia (missing since 1972), Holly Ann Hughes (missing since 1981), whom he was convicted of kidnapping in October 2004, and Tiahease Jackson (missing since 1983).
There is speculation that Andre Rand may be responsible for the disappearance of Audrey Lyn Nerenberg, an 18-year-old from Brooklyn (missing since 1977).
Where Are the Children?
It's been more than 20 years since Andre Rand terrorized Staten Island and his victims' parents have never received closure - their babies are out there somewhere.
I do not know - and I hope I never have to know - the pain of losing a child. The children kidnapped by Rand have always been close to my heart because any one of them could have been me.
Over the years many searches have been organized for the children who disappeared on a summer day in Staten Island. Every year, "Friends of Jennifer," a team that searched for Jennifer Schweiger, searches Willowbrook's 385 acres looking for the other girls. Sadly, the other girls still haven't been found.
As of May 2011, Andre Rand continues to make headlines in the Staten Island Advance.
Help Find Missing Children
Don't let missing children become forgotten children. Educate yourself on prevention, stastics and most importantly - learn how you can help find missing kids. Take a moment of your time, learn about missing children in your community. Raise awareness. All it takes is one person to recognize and identify an abducted child. You can help give a sad story a happy ending.