When our daughter was missing we spent a lot of time trying to determine her whereabouts by following up on many different leads. Some of these leads came in from the private investigator we had hired to find her. Others were more anecdotal leads from friends of friends who believed they had seen her in one place or another, or well-meaning people who had seen the posters we plastered all over town.
There were people who were "pretty sure" Giana had crossed their path. One night I decided to pursue some "sightings" that seemed plausible.
There is a little residential neighborhood on the outskirts of town where someone claimed they saw her car (well ... our car; the one she had taken when she ran). This neighborhood is near the river—right off Herndon and Highway 99 in Fresno—and is known for being a somewhat "seedy" area.
We’d heard that she was staying down there with the same man she’d last been seen with, and this was further reinforced by a friend of her brothers who claimed they had seen her come into the Taco Bell near that location. It was worth a look.
That night I swapped our other car with a friend's van (to avoid her recognizing our vehicle if I found her) and I drove down to that neighborhood to look around. I spent my time slowly cruising up and down the residential streets looking for any sign of her car parked somewhere. Back alleys separated the rows of houses and I paused at each one to check out what might be parked there.
In one alley I saw a parked car with someone leaning in the passenger window. I paused at the end of the narrow dirt road to try and identify the make of the car. The person leaning into the car stood up and looked at me. The driver flipped on his headlights. I was apparently disturbing something I shouldn't be seeing but I could see it wasn't her car so I moved on.
I cruised up and down the tiny side streets and then made my way back to the only road that lead in and out of the neighborhood . The same car from the alley passed me going the other direction and it was moving at a pretty good clip. In my rear view mirror I saw the driver slam on his brakes, make a quick U-turn in the road and accelerate up behind me.
It was time to leave.
I quickly left the neighborhood and headed home. The other car chased after me. Now we were on a six-lane road—both driving far too fast—and it was clear the driver was intent on catching up to me. Every time he got up next to me I would slow down so I could be behind him. I'd then pass him when he slowed to match my speed. I didn't want him next to me.
His window was down and he was screaming something at me. Though I don't know what he had to say, it was quite clear that I wasn't welcome in his area. I had no illusion that he had something helpful to contribute to the search for my daughter. It was far more likely that I had disturbed some "transaction" of his in the alley and he wasn't pleased. He chased me for a couple miles and then broke off and headed back to the neighborhood from which he had come. I headed home.
As it turns out, Giana was never in that neighborhood (although she’d been given a free Pepsi at the Taco Bell). Like so many leads we had received, it was another dead end. Months later, I told Giana that story and she said, "Oh, Dad. You shouldn't have been down there. It isn't safe in that area."
Yeah. I get that now.