Medical mystery tour brings Holloway to Okoboji
Definitive answers are out of her grasp, so Beth Holloway clings to likely scenarios about a May night in Aruba six years ago.
She thinks her 18-year-old daughter Natalee left a popular night club on the Caribbean island after consuming some potent drinks laced with a date rape drug. She then climbed into what she thought was a taxi.
Three local men were inside the car, including Joran Van der Sloot, a Dutch college student. Beth Holloway thinks Van der Sloot slipped too much of the date rape drug into Natalee's drinks. Her mother also thinks 5-foot-5 recent high school graduate may have overdosed on the drug. Natalee's captors panicked and arranged for the body to be disposed of at sea.
Natalee's missed flight on May 30, 2005, triggered a media sensation in the United States an exhaustive search in Aruba.
Beth Holloway chased down tips placing Natalee at gas stations and restaurants. She put up missing persons posters in the city of Oranjestad, where Natalee was last seen.
She told an Okoboji audience gathered Friday that she visited the island's underbelly of filthy crack houses and brothels to find her daughter.
"The panic I was trying to suppress was beginning to take hold," she told a group of medical professionals gathered at the 7th Annual Lakes Health Conference at Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center. The event was co-hosted by Northwest Iowa Community College and Iowa Lakes Community College.
Natalee has never been found, but theories about Van der Sloot's role in her disappearance gained traction after he was arrested for the May 2010 murder of Stephany Flores, a Peruvian woman he met. He also faces federal extortion and wire fraud charges in the United States for trying to extort money from Beth Holloway in exchange for information that would lead to the recovery of Natalee's body.
"For me, I have a perpetrator in prison, so I can't ask for anything more right now," Beth Holloway said. "That's where he belongs and now I'm able to focus and move onward in the help that I can do for others who have missing loved ones -- maybe they don't have recovery of their loved one's remains or they don't have a perpetrator in prison, so my hope is to shed enough light and to help them."
Beth Holloway has established the Natalee Holloway Resource Center, a foundation for families who have a missing loved one. She also founded mayday360.com, which offers a travel safety package for Americans.
"You can't be knowledgeable about every country's customs, laws and government," she said. "Language barriers alone would be an insurmountable challenge to face."
She continues to reach out to college and high school students with a personal safety and travel safety message.
"I made a commitment early on -- actually it was June 2005 -- that I would share the hard lessons that we've learned with others. So many other people united on our behalf and reached out to us to support us and my search for Natalee," she said. "I think what I've done over the last six years is to make good on the commitment."
The commitment includes a book, a variety of interviews and speaking engagements, but the repetition of her account hasn't made the burden of Natalee's disappearance any easier.
"I don't know that it gets easier," Beth Holloway said. "I think the hardest part about a search for a missing loved one that a family has to face is just finding the strength, focus and determination to continue the search."
Beth Holloway said her daughter was surrounded by friends had a false sense of security and vanished.
She encourages teenagers and young adults to apply the basic safety rules learned in childhood.
"It's as simple as the buddy system," she said.