I had a hard time focusing for the last three hours of the show Monday. Around 3:45 during a commercial break I opened an email from my kids’ school district about a missing child. This was about the same time it was being reported on our air by the news department. There was a link within the email to a media release by the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office where they showed the 12 year old’s picture and her name.

My blood ran cold.

It was a name I heard said by my daughter many times. The missing girl was a friend of hers from school.

To have something like a massive search for a child in your own town, one involving police and detectives, K-9 units and SWAT, is creepy enough. To realize it’s a classmate of your daughter is unreal.

We live at a time when news travels fast and the negatives come hurling at his from all directions. A missing child. Or a fatal fire. Or a triple homicide. Whatever the tragedy we humans have a way of dealing with this so as to not go insane.

We disassociate.

Someone killed at 2 a.m.? Well I don’t go out late. A chemical leak? Didn’t happen in my town. Ten car pileup? I don’t drive 78. We human beings have made an art form of this.

When it’s your own town, and the child goes to your daughter’s school, and the staging area for the massive search effort is about a mile from your home, you finally have to face it that yes, these things can happen to your loved ones too. You can’t kid yourself any longer.

Parents of my older kids’ friends began texting me throughout the afternoon. I made an on-air plea for people to see the girl’s photo on our website and keep an eye out for her. One mom wrote me that she was so rattled she called the police to ask if they needed volunteers in the search effort. She was willing to walk fields with a flashlight, hand out flyers, anything. They told her no, it wasn’t quite at that point yet. I had even been thinking the same, to head over to the Dutch Country Farm Market where the staging area was set up after the show to see if I could help. After all, it’s my town, and I could only imagine what the girl’s parents were thinking, and this was someone my daughter knew.

Happily it ended well. Minutes before 7 p.m. we were able to make the announcement the Swetha Fernando had been found safe. Whatever went on with her this day will hopefully remain a mystery. I imagine every kid in school will want to ask her what happened. It’s none of our business. All that should be said to her is that we’re glad she’s okay and leave it at that.

This girl belongs only to one family. But many of us in Raritan Twp. got a small taste of fear and a cold shot of reality that we’re never as insulated and invulnerable as we’d like to pretend we are.

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