Thursday, July 1, 2010
By Kathryn Casey
It was disturbing, to say the least, finding out that a teenager was missing, 16-year-old Alexandria “Ali” Lowitzer. What hit me particularly hard was that Ali lives in my part of Houston, and she’d been missing for weeks before the case caught my attention.
The truth is that I tend to focus in on this type of news. I’ve spent the last twenty-five years as a crime writer, first for magazines, now books. So I’m sensitive to the issues, and the prospect of any missing person draws my attention. One who lives just miles from my home, well, that’s sure to convince me to research the case and weed through the clues. How could I have missed the news coverage? When I Googled Ali’s name, I realized so little had been reported that I probably wasn’t the only one who hadn’t heard.
In many ways, the case has all the elements of a big news story, the kind that monopolizes headlines across the nation. On Monday April 26, Ali finished classes for the day. At some point, she called her mom and said she planned to take the school bus home and then walk a mile to her cook’s job at the Burger Barn restaurant. Later surveillance video would show the auburn-haired teen, her hazel eyes ringed in smoky eye-liner, departing the bus at three that afternoon, about 30 feet from her front door. It was then that Ali Lowitzer simply vanished.
Ali never made it to work that day, or to the Alice-in-Wonderland birthday party she’d helped organize for a friend that weekend. And she didn’t play catcher for her softball team at the tournament the following week. Yet the first article on her disappearance didn’t appear in the Houston Chronicle until nine days later.
Why hadn’t the case made headlines? The activities the teen was involved in “throw up some red flags,” said Dawn Davis, a case manager for the Laura Recovery Center, a group that organizes searches for missing persons. Perhaps based on that information, law enforcement, at least for the first month, wrote the teen off as a runaway.
It appears that the Harris County Sheriff's office only recently decided that perhaps they were wrong. They've brought in homicide and missing persons to investigate the case. But from all appearances, valuable time was lost. If Ali was abducted, as her parents contend, one can only imagine how much harm this delay has done. In abductions as in homicides, the first forty-eight hours are absolutely crucial.
While Ali may dress Goth, her parents, John and Jo Ann Lowitzer, paint a very different picture of their daughter. They talk of a girl who sings in the school choir, plays the flute, loves to draw, and was so connected to family and friends that she habitually sent 4,000 text messages a month. It frightens them that Ali hasn’t sent a single text since she stepped off that school bus. She hasn’t updated her Facebook or MySpace social-networking pages either. And her friends say they haven’t heard from her. Perhaps most disturbing, Ali’s father says a few months ago, another neighborhood teenager was nearly abducted. In that case, a car pulled up next to a girl and a man lunged at her, grabbing her around the neck. “She bit him," John Lowitzer said, "so the man backed off and tried to get her around the waist, and she was able to get away."
As the weeks and the agony drag on, both of the Lowitzers continue to send their daughter nightly text messages, hoping somehow Ali will be able to access them, although her cell phone charger, along with nearly all her belongings, including her purse and money, were left in her bedroom.
Although police didn't initially push the case, family, friends, and the Laura Center did the best they could. They started a Facebook campaign, and led volunteers on searches of the miles of forest surrounding the Lowitzer’s neighborhood, undoubtedly hoping yet fearing they’d find traces of the 5-foot-2 teenager with pink banding on her braces. When she disappeared, Ali wore black-and-white checkered pants, a dark hoodie and a checkered backpack. “Ali is a wonderful person,” her father, John Lowitzer, told the press, begging whoever has his daughter to “let her go!”
While I fear Ali’s parents are right, that there’s a good chance the teenager didn’t leave on her own but was abducted, I sincerely hope they’re wrong. If Ali ran away, maybe she’ll hear their tearful pleas, take pity and return to those who love her.
So the question is: What do you think happened to Ali Lowitzer?