The mother of a young woman whose disappearance became an international story warned Augusta Preparatory Day School students Friday about the dangers of overseas travel.
“One thing I will do is carry her story for the rest of my life,” Beth Holloway said of her daughter Natalee in a video clip she played before her speech to the Martinez private school’s high school students.
Natalee Holloway, 18, disappeared in 2005 during a graduation trip to Aruba with classmates from Mountain Brook High School in Alabama.
The main suspect in her disappearance, Dutch citizen Joran Van der Sloot, twice was arrested and questioned by Aruban authorities but was never charged.
Last month, he pleaded guilty in Peru to murdering 21-year-old businesswoman Stephany Flores on May 30, 2010, the fifth anniversary of Natalee’s disappearance. He was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
Van der Sloot also faces a wire fraud charge in Alabama after he tried to get Beth Holloway to pay him to tell her the whereabouts of Natalee’s body.
The day after Van der Sloot’s guilty plea in Peru, an Alabama judge declared Natalee dead at the request of her father, Dave Holloway. Beth Holloway opposed the declaration.
Holloway said Friday that she believes Van der Sloot “kidnapped and murdered” her daughter by spiking her drink with a date rape drug at a seaside nightclub the night before she was scheduled to return home.
Immediately after Natalee’s disappearance, Holloway said, she traveled to Aruba and followed any lead given her. With little help from local authorities, Holloway even visited crack houses and brothels.
“The panic I was trying to suppress was beginning to take hold,” she said of her emotional state after four days of searching.
Holloway said she learned that American tourists often are targeted by criminals. Men and women, especially teens, visiting Aruba are lured to crack houses, drugged and robbed.
Often, Holloway said, tourists are held against their will until their credit cards are maxed out and then released.
To help teen travelers to overseas destinations, Holloway founded Mayday360.com. The site offers information on electronic travel storage, a list of U.S. embassies and consulates, locations to get medical and legal assistance, an emergency help line and a beacon application for smartphones.
Holloway warned that travelers should activate international calling on cell phones before leaving, keep travel itineraries secret, don’t overindulge in alcohol, never leave a drink unattended, be aware of surroundings and make a plan with friends to meet at a specific spot and time before leaving any location.
“You are your own best protection,” she said.
To help families of missing travelers, Holloway joined with the National Museum of Crime and Punishment to create the Natalee Holloway Resource Center. The center provides action plans, missing poster templates, contacts, resources and submits news releases.
Holloway remained in Augusta to take part in today’s Run for Justice 5K, a fundraiser for the Natalee Holloway Resource Center organized by Augusta Prep students Maggie McLeod, 18, and Amanda Murphy, 17.
“Americans are major targets (when traveling abroad) and people don’t realize that,” said McLeod. “Hopefully, with this (fundraiser), we can get that message out.”