"It's going to sound strange," says Allison Hammond, "but I almost welcome an investigation because now they can see we have nothing to hide. We're a good family that a bad thing happened to, and I think that's what the investigation will find."
Hammond, the 35-year-old mother at the center of growing public scrutiny since the disappearance of her 21/2-year-old daughter, Caleigh Harrison, from the Rockport end of Long Beach on April 19 — a month ago today — was reacting Friday to the news, reported early Friday at gloucestertimes.com, that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families has launched an investigation into charges of neglect and abuse related to the safety of her older daughter, 4-year-old Elizabeth.
In an interview Friday morning, Hammond told the Times she'd learned of the investigation when her husband, Anthony Harrison, called her Thursday morning saying that "he was afraid the state was going to take the kids."
Hammond, who, like her husband, still refers to Caleigh in the present tense, claims that Anthony had initiated the investigation when he called Rockport Police and voiced his concerns about "Lizzie not being safe with me." By state law, police who receive such a complaint are required to contact and refer the case for investigation by child welfare officials.
Massachusetts State Police, in a statement issued late Friday, clarified that such an investigation is not criminal in nature, and that it merely reflects the filing of a potential complaint on behalf of Caleigh's older sister, not in connected to Caleigh's disappearance.
Caleigh's parents — who, according to Hammond, have been "amicably separated" since last September — have presented a united front to the media in the weeks since Caleigh's disappearance; but that facade is crumbling now.
"Up until now," she said during Friday morning's interview with the Times, "no matter what our differences, we've always been united in our love for our kids.
"We never fight around them," she said. "We've had our problems, sure, but custodially, they've never been an issue. It's always just been about raising two happy kids."
Anthony Harrison's concerns about Lizzie's safety, Hammond said, are based on her "mental state." She is, she says, painfully aware that her demeanor has become her worst enemy. In interviews on national broadcast media, she concedes she has come across as cool, dispassionate, unfeeling. And this, she believes — along with the fact that Caleigh disappeared on her watch — is at the center of her estranged husband's accusations.
"I don't think," says Hammond, "that Anthony realized that if you express any form of danger to a child, it has to be reported, so when he voiced his concerns about Lizzie to Rockport Police, an investigation would be mandated, and it would implicate him, too."
Sitting across the table Friday in a coffee shop down the street from the new apartment she has settled into with 4-year-old Lizzie, her pain is palpable.
"Everyone copes differently with what happens to them," she says. "What's happened with Caleigh is too big. It hurts too much for me to allow myself to feel it.
"If I did, I'd disintegrate, and I can't disintegrate for Lizzie's sake. I have to keep myself together for Lizzie. I have to live for Lizzie 'til Caleigh comes home."
Like her estranged husband, Allison Hammond believes that Caleigh will come home. She and Lizzie set a place for her at the table every night. Lizzie buys little toys for her at the nearby Dollar Store.
While Lizzie was living primarily with the Harrison family in the days after Caleigh disappeared, Allison Hammond says that her daughter is primarily with her now.
"Those first couple of weeks," she says, "I was, I admit, too much of a mess.
"At that point, I felt Lizzie was better off over there with her cousins," she said, "but now we're getting back to being us again, that's what Lizzie needs."
For Allison, who works three nights a week at Stone's Pub on Main Street, "being us" means "just being a mom most of the day."
The new home she shares with Lizzie has a playground across the parking lot, and when Lizzie, who spends her mornings at preschool, gets out at noon, mother and daughter make a beeline straight for the jungle gym.
Before Caleigh "went missing" Allison told the Times earlier, she and Caleigh would "put the music on and sing and dance" while Lizzie was at school.
"It was our time," she says wistfully now. "Yeah, we really had it good."
Allison says she has relived what happened that day at the beach countless times in her mind. She retraces her steps, tries to re-assess the two minute timeline she originally gave police as the time she'd left her daughters while she went off to retrieve a tennis ball.
In the coffee shop, she laid cutlery out on the table to reconstruct the scene and to relive the possibilities of what may have happened, including where a potential abductor might have been at the time.
She doesn't, she says, know what happened. No one does, she says.
She and her husband Anthony may be estranged in other ways, but they remain united in their belief that Caleigh may not have been swept out to sea.
The couple are increasingly at odds with the State Police's "dismissal," as Hammond put it, of abduction as a possibility — particularly following Wednesday's announcement by Massachusetts State Police spokesman David Procopio, that a re-enactment of Caleigh's disappearance had virtually eliminated any abduction scenario.
Despite noting throughout the early investigation they had not ruled out foul play, police never issued an Amber Alert. And while Caleigh's family has said that Lizzie has often now described seeing "a man on the beach" who may have taken her sister — a man whom she has described, and who "smelled of cigarettes" — police have maintained there is no evidence of any abductor or abduction.
"Again," says Allison Hammond, "they're investigating the water. What about the land?"
Hammond is also painfully aware that her actions on the day of Caleigh's disappearance have led to increased scrutiny.
"I did not panic immediately," she says, "because I did not immediately consider Caleigh could really be gone. I did not immediately call 911 because I did not have a cell phone."
Although Hammond went into Saratoga Creek, searching for Caleigh, she did not, she says, believe Caleigh was in the water because "I believe I'd have seen her in the water — and I still believe that, no matter what anyone says."
As for everyone "saying what they're saying about my demeanor," Hammond says, "I don't feel I have to prove I'm emotional to the rest of the world."
"Believe me, I cry," she says. "I cry all the time. But not in front of Lizzie, I can't do that to Lizzie."
Hammond says that she and the Harrisons realize Lizzie needs some form of therapy to help her process what's happened. So far, she says, Lizzie has been interviewed only twice — on the beach by Officer Daniel Mahoney, the Rockport police officer assigned to the case, and once, for about 20 minutes, she said, by a state child pschychologist. That interview came on April 23, according to police reports, two days after Caleigh vanished.
Lizzie will, says her mother, turn 5 on June 4.
"We'll have a birthday cake for her," says Allison Hammond quietly, "but we'll keep it low key."
Then, her face brightens.
"Unless, of course, Caleigh's home by then," she says. "Then we'll throw a ridiculous party."
Joann Mackenzie can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3457, or at email@example.com.