Three weeks and a day after 2-year-old Caleigh Harrison disappeared from Long Beach, hundreds of people from Gloucester, across Cape Ann and beyond "held hands" Friday night as a show of support and solidarity for her and her family in an outpouring of community emotion on Stacy Boulevard.
The "Hold Hands for Caleigh" vigil — with those on the Boulevard joined by fishing boats and fishermen in Gloucester's outer harbor — was organized just this week by Caleigh's family and friends, volunteers with the Boston-based Mission for the Missing support group, and others as a means of not only joining in hope for her return, but of raising awareness of child safety.
David Harrison, brother of Caleigh's father Anthony Harrison, said the effort was inspired in part by the "Slow Down for Allie" campaign that followed the tragic 2009 death of Allie Kastner, a 15-year-old girl who was struck and killed while crossing a street in Marblehead.
Harrison and other family members and volunteers last night distributed bracelets and bumper stickers reading "Hold Hands for Caleigh," with Harrison noting in an earlier interview that parents must always be aware that a child can be lost in a virtual instant.
"People shouldn't think it can't happen to them, because it can," David Harrison said while discussing plans for the vigil.
It was just after noon, and shortly after high tide on a day with dangerous surf warnings that little Caleigh Harrison, playing at Long Beach near Cape Hedge Beach with her 4-year-old sister Elizabeth, her mother, Allison Hammond, and the family's dog, Lucas, vanished while her mother had turned away for an estimated one to two minutes to retrieve a ball that had gone over a nearby wall. When she looked back, Caleigh was gone.
Massachusetts State Police, Rockport Police and, for a time, the U.S. Coast Guard — along with volunteers and fishermen off the coast — carried out an extensive water-based search, but no sign of the girl has turned up.
Police, however, have also not ruled out foul play. And family members have said they've come to increasingly wonder whether Caleigh may have been abducted. Police have said there is no evidence of an abduction, and authorities never issued an Ambet Alert after the little girl's disappearance.
But David Harrison and Maureen Flatley, a child safety advocate with Mission for the Missing, both say that Caleigh's sister Elizabeth — who reportedly told investigators at first that she could not remember or didn't know what happened, now consistently describes a man on the beach who may have taken her little sister.