Holloway warns students of travel dangers

Published 4:40 pm Saturday, June 12, 2010

Just a little over five years ago, Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway disappeared while on a high school graduation trip to Aruba with her classmates.

Saturday, her mother, Beth Holloway came to Troy University to share her family’s story with the Lions Club of Alabama High School Leadership Forum.

Holloway shared the story of her daughter, and the Holloway family’s search for her with the audience, often in painful detail.

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“What happened to my family could happen to anyone at any time in any place,” Holloway said to the crowd of mostly high school students. “You could be that child, and your parent could be me.”

Natalee Holloway was last seen in Aruba leaving an establishment called Carlos and Charlie’s with Aruban locals Joran van der Sloot and Deepak and Satish Kalpoe.

Van der Sloot has resurfaced in headlines in recent days with his alleged murder of Peruvian woman Stephany Flores on May 30, five years to the day after Natalee Holloway’s disappearance.

While Holloway and her family now have an idea of what may have happened to Natalee, they did not have that knowledge for quite some time.

During her search for answers, Holloway traveled to Aruba in search of her daughter, and found a side of international travel she did not expect.

Initially, Aruban authorities told Holloway that Natalee would eventually turn up at Carlos and Charlie’s. Eventually, Holloway found out why the police believed that while following a tip that Natalee was being held in an alleged crack house.

“We found compartments with chairs with ropes attached to them,” Holloway said. “We were told they would take tourists and tie them up. After they had taken their cash and exhausted their debit card funds, they would let the tourists go on the beach or on the side of the road, or most commonly, at Carlos and Charlie’s. While nothing came of those searches, those images will never leave my mind. The underbelly of the island had been exposed, and it wasn’t pretty. There were more questions raised than being answered.”

Since Natalee’s disappearance, Beth Holloway has traveled around the country delivering her message emphasizing personal safety, a message she shared with the crowd in attendance Saturday.

“As a teacher, I kept asking myself what I can teach others, and what I can do for others,” Holloway said. “The best way for me to honor Natalee is to bring those messages about personal danger to you. We don’t want to teach you to live in fear, but we do want to teach you to be careful because it is not a safe world.”

Holloway has instituted several programs, including TravelEd, a program intended to educate travelers on the risks associated with traveling abroad, as well as the Natalee Holloway Resource Center in Washington, D.C.

Holloway said she hopes through her words, other students can avoid experiencing what her family has experienced.

“These last five years, I have been living a parent’s worst nightmare,” Holloway said. ”I just pray other families never experience the pain we’ve been through.”

One of the ways for families to avoid a similar tragedy is keeping their guard up while abroad, said Holloway.

According to her mother, one of Natalee’s mistakes was having a false sense of security.

“She never saw it coming,” Holloway said. “She was blind sided. She never stood a chance She had a false sense of security. She was too confident and felt too safe. She let her guard down for a moment, and in that moment, she vanished.”

Holloway said her experiences have altered her life’s path, and her path helped lead her to Troy Saturday.

“I have every right to crawl into a hole, and never come out again,” Holloway said. “But, that’s now how I want to live my life. This is my tribute to Natalee. This is my life’s work. I want to help other families avoid what we went through.”

Before she left, Holloway offered some final words to the students in attendance.

“It’s too late for Natalee, and it’s too late for me, but it’s not too late for you,” Holloway said.