The mother of a famed disappearance victim 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 Natalee Holloway in a video clip she played prior to a speech to the Martinez private school’s high school students.
Natalee Holloway 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 never charged.
Last month, Van der Sloot plead 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 bribe Beth Holloway 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 she believes Van der Sloot “kidnapped and murdered” her daughter by overdosing her drink with a date rape drug at a seaside nightclub the night before she was scheduled to return home.
Immediately following Natalee’s disappearance, Holloway said she traveled to Aruba and followed any lead given her. With little help from local authorities, Holloway said she even visited crack houses and brothels looking for her daughter.
“The panic I was trying to suppress was beginning to take hold,” she said after four days of searching.
During her ordeal, 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 future 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, a beacon application for smartphones, and more.
Also, 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 up at a specific spot at a specific time before leaving any location.
“You are your own best protection,” Holloway said.
To help families of missing travelers, Holloway partnered 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 press releases.
Holloway will remain in Martinez until Saturday to take part in the Run for Justice 5K, a fundraiser for the NHRC 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.”