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Police search for missing Kansas teen

As one of five children of Kansas law enforcement officer Greg Smith, 18-year-old Kelsey Smith knew the family rules very well.  Her dad had taught them to her and she, like her siblings, knew she was responsible to let her parents know where she was going.  That way, Greg Smith had told himself, if one of my children ever goes missing, I know where to point police in their search for my missing child.

Kelsey Smith had just graduated from Shawnee Mission West High School and was now counting the days before she'd follow in the steps of her older sister and attend Kansas State University, where she hoped to join the university's marching band and eventually become a veterinarian one day.  She had hopes and dreams that included rooming at college with a friend, Megan Hoss, one of many of her friends that are now involved in the frantic three-day-old search for missing Kelsey Smith.

Kelsey was looking forward to her date Saturday night, this with her boyfriend of six months, John Biersmith.  She had to run a few errands before meeting Biersmith at her home, where he was waiting to take her to a pool party at 7:30 p.m. and then out to dinner to celebrate their half-year anniversary together.  Kelsey never made it home.  She told her mother that she was going to a local Target store to make a purchase, and store surveillance cameras show her in the store and then show her leaving at about 7:10 p.m., obviously enough time to get back to her home and meet her boyfriend.  Surveillance cameras showed something, somebody else that police are now interested in.  They show a younger white male wearing a T-shirt, shorts and tennis shoes.  He has a goatee-like beard and a watch on his left wrist.  Although one of many people in the Target store at the same time as Kelsey, he has become a so-called "person of interest" to police in their attempt to find Smith.

Most know that in this day of surveillance systems, that your chances of being seen on some type of store, parking lot or street surveillance camera are very high.  Although Smith's grandparents were the first to locate their granddaughter's car, an old 1987 grey Buick Regal with a Nebraska 30-day temp paper tag, parked outside of a Macy's department store in a mall nearby the Target store where Kelsey had been captured on film, it made no sense for her car to be there, and no sense for her car to have turned left when seen leaving the parking lot.  To get to her house she should have turned right.  Further review of the parking lot video shows Kelsey, having just left the Target, opening the passenger side door of her car and placing packages on the front seat.  She then attempts to enter the driver's side door when from out of nowhere you see someone running toward her.  The unknown person runs up behind her and pushes her into the car.  That's when her car is seen turning left out of the parking lot, left and away from her home, her parents, her boyfriend and the safety of friends and family.  Police say when her car was located two hours later it had her purse and packages inside, but Kelsey was missing.

One question that police should be able to answer is if the picture of the man wearing a white T-shirt and shorts that was taken when Kelsey was in the Target store matches the picture of the unknown assailant and believed kidnapper who apparently pushed her into her car and drove away with her.  It's reasonable to assume that were she to have been the victim of a kidnapping that her assailant could not have known that she would be at the Target store, therefore she appears to be a random victim of opportunity.  This does not suggest that she was unknown to her assailant, but that for whatever his reason, he decided to take Kelsey in the parking lot, a place where he probably believed he would not be observed.  It's also reasonable to suggest that he could have driven to the Target or been dropped off there.  His leaving her car two hours later at a nearby parking lot suggests the assailant had a reason to return to that area, probably to pick up his car or to get a ride home from someone who expected he would be there.  Should this be the case, he may reside in the local area and his photograph should help to identify him.  But if the photos from the Target and the parking lot do not match, then, perhaps, he may just be a witness. 

After 16 years in law enforcement, Kelsey's father knows full well the challenges in finding his daughter.  Many remember the sad case of 22-year-old University of North Dakota college senior Dru Sjodin, kidnapped from another shopping mall parking lot by Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr., a convicted sex offender, who was found to have raped and murdered Sjodin in November 2003.  Any parent of a kidnapped child also knows the story of Salt Lake City teenager Elizabeth Smart who was kidnapped but recovered alive from her kidnapper almost one year later.  That's the story that most cling to, although we know the statistics and know that the chances of finding Kelsey alive grow slimmer and slimmer as the hours turn into days.

Police will be reviewing surveillance videos from across the entire area to try to find pictures of Kelsey's old Buick, or of her believe assailant, or of Kelsey herself.  Store receipts from the Target and surrounding stores will be checked in an attempt to identify the man in the store with her, and his picture will receive wide media attention.  Someone will know him, and someone will call the police.  What he may know concerning Kelsey's disappearance, however, is yet to be determined.

In the meantime all the usual things are being accomplished in an attempt to find Kelsey.  Wanted posters with her picture have been distributed across the area, her car has been searched for forensic evidence concerning her disappearance, her e-mails and any social networking web site that she has visited in recent times will be reviewed, as well as her cel phone records, her credit card usage, and on and on.  Most police officers, including Kelsey's father, know the drill too well.  Most also know the odds may be against them at this time, but all believe that the emotional porch light that points the way home for Kelsey should not be extinguished until she is located, one way or the other.

Clint Van Zandt is a former FBI Agent, behavioral profiler and hostage negotiator as well as an MSNBC Analyst. His web site provides readers with the opportunity to obtain free security related information as well as a free copy of Clint's DVD, "Protecting Children from Predators," a valuable source of information as our children enter the summer months.