Blog: Amy Mihaljevic's murder prompts tough talk with children about real life dangers

CLEVELAND - Imagine you are 10 years old.

You get a phone call at home from a man who says he works with your mom.  He has great news -- your mom is about to receive a promotion at work and her co-workers want to buy her a gift.

The gift, of course, is a surprise and he needs your help picking it out. He makes plans to meet you after school, saying you'll go to the mall, pick out the gift with him and then he'll bring you right back.

What would you do?

This is the question I posed to my 10-year-old stepson and 8-year-old stepdaughter over the weekend. I was more than relieved when they both told me they wouldn't go.

What followed was a difficult discussion, but one that I felt was very necessary.

Twenty-three years ago -- On Oct. 27, 1989 -- a man picked up Amy Mihaljevic, 10, outside of a shopping center in Bay Village using that very same story.

I told my stepchildren about how I was just one year younger than Amy when she was abducted. I clearly remember seeing that glaring police sketch of a man with glasses staring me down each time I entered a store. You couldn't go anywhere in Northeast Ohio in late 1989 without seeing that suspect sketch, along with Amy’s 5th grade school picture hanging in the windows of businesses.

I then told them that Amy was missing for a little over three months when her body was found in a field in Ashland County on Feb. 8, 1990. Her killer still hasn't been found.

It broke my heart to see the look on my stepchildren’s faces, a look of fear and remorse and a little bit of shock.

It was the same feeling I had when I learned the news in 1990 that Amy was dead. It was at that moment that I understood there were adults in this world who meant to do harm to children. That the "don’t talk to strangers" talk was just all talk, until now.

The case of Amy’s murder bothered me as a child. Now as a mother and stepmother, it motivates me to educate my children about the dangers of going anywhere alone with any adult without permission from mom or dad.

I explained to my stepchildren that "strangers" don’t always look like strangers -- they can look harmless like someone else’s mom or dad. I told them even going somewhere with an adult that you’ve maybe met before, that is not a "stranger," still isn't OK unless you have your parents' permission.

When late October rolls around every year, I find myself thinking about Amy’s mom. Margaret Mihaljevic died without ever learning what happened to her precious daughter. As I am now a mother myself, I try to imagine what life must have been like for her. I can’t. It's simply too painful to even try putting myself in her shoes.

As I watch my father hold my 4-month-old son and experience all the joys of being a grandparent, I think about Amy’s father, Mark Mihaljevic, and how he missed the chance to see his daughter become a mother.

I wrote this editorial to encourage parents to have these conversations with your children (when the age is appropriate).

It’s not an easy conversation to have, but it's one that can't wait.

Police said Amy's riding boots, turquoise horse head-shaped earrings and a Buick "Best in Class" notebook that she had on her at the time of her disappearance were never found.  Police in Bay Village still hold out hope that those items are still out there and will lead them to Amy’s killer someday soon.

"Those are the type of items that someone who would commit this type of crime would keep as souvenirs. They want something to remember the event by," Bay Village Detective Mark Spaetzel told NewsChannel 5 in 2011.

Over the last 23 years, Spaetzel and his colleagues have received more 20,000 tips and have questioned numerous suspects.

If you have information that could potentially help police solve the murder of Amy Mihaljevic please call Bay Village Police at (440) 871-1234.

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