Skip to comments.Keeping Natalee in the Spotlight
Posted on 09/18/2005 5:23:20 PM PDT by freespirited
Beth Holloway Twitty tends to hug reporters.
She asks about their families and seems to mean it. In interviews, she rarely breaks eye contact and begins every few sentences with the reporter's name, as in, "Dan, it's just been a nightmare," or "You know, Larry, I can't tell you how frustrating this is."
Twitty talks daily by phone with Greta Van Susteren, the Fox News personality who practically moved to Aruba to report the story that has captivated people around the world and turned the grieving mother into a peculiar kind of superstar. Natalee Holloway, Twitty's 18-year-old daughter, disappeared May 30 during a trip to Aruba with fellow recent graduates of Mountain Brook High School. Outside a nightclub there, she got into a car with three young men and hasn't been heard from since.
"I learned pretty quickly that when you're desperately searching for a missing child, the news media is your best friend," says Twitty, who moved back to Mountain Brook last week after three-and-a-half months in Aruba.
"Point me toward a camera and I'll talk. What happens is, it opens doors. Somebody will come forward with information, or tell us another place to look. We're opening one door after another, and one of them will lead us to Natalee."
Throughout the investigation, Twitty has appeared reasonable and dignified, even as three suspects were arrested, released, arrested again and finally re-released this month. The ever-present cameras were there when Twitty calmly marched up to suspect Deepak Kalpoe at his job in an Internet cafe and demanded the truth about her daughter. All Kalpoe could do was stare at the ground.
They followed, too, as she confronted Paulus van der Sloot, father of Joran van der Sloot. Joran is the Dutch national who Twitty says has confessed to the Aruban police that he had sex with Natalee while the Alabama teen was in and out of consciousness. "If that's not a crime, I don't know what is," she says.
The case now appears stalled. But neither terrorist bombings in London nor a killer Gulf Coast hurricane could make the story go away.
"It's all because of Beth," says Jim Moret, chief correspondent for the syndicated television show "Inside Edition." He has interviewed Twitty several times, and flew to Aruba recently just to take her to lunch.
Finding her child:
"People feel like they know Beth now, and they want to hear about the case from her," Moret says. "It's like she's become a part of their family. How many parents do you know who can't identify with a mother who just wants to find her child?"
Twitty's brother, Paul Reynolds, says viewers are drawn to Twitty's honesty and sincerity. "People come up to Beth, wanting to express their sorrow, and she turns it around and starts comforting them," Reynolds says. "She's a very caring, giving person."
The near daily TV appearances that made her famous this summer don't seem to have slowed down. Moret interviewed Twitty last week in Birmingham for a two-part segment that aired Thursday and Friday. Also Thursday, Phil McGraw devoted his entire "Dr. Phil" show to Natalee's disappearance. Twitty flew to Los Angeles to appear on that program and was recognized by strangers on the street.
"People come up and hug me all the time," Twitty says. "I get so much strength from their support. For 22 years I've been a teacher, and I've felt like I was the helpful one, pulling the children along. Now I feel like everybody else is pulling me."
Wednesday evening, less than 24 hours after she moved back to Birmingham, Twitty twice appeared live on cable's MSNBC - first with lawyer and "Abrams Report" host Dan Abrams at 6 p.m., and, nearly three hours later, with anchor Rita Cosby on her program "Rita Cosby: Live and Direct."
For those interviews, Twitty and her husband, Jug, drove to a downtown production studio, where she was hooked up to a satellite feed to Washington and New York. They made the drive twice over the weekend so she could talk to Fox's Geraldo Rivera and to Van Susteren, who Twitty considers a close friend.
"Greta has taught me a lot," Twitty says, sitting cross-legged on the floor of her living room. "Greta's a lawyer, and she's taught me the red flags to look for and the key elements to seek. She's raised my awareness of things that go on in an investigation."
Twitty, a speech pathologist and special education teacher, is on leave from her job at Brookwood Forest Elementary School, thanks to co-workers who've donated enough off days to get Twitty through December. She is not wasting a minute, sleeping just four to six hours a night, and then back to the search for Natalee.
With Joran van der Sloot in college in Holland now, Twitty decided to move her base of operations back to Birmingham. "But I'll be flying back and forth to Aruba," she says. "We are not giving up on Natalee. Until somebody shows me otherwise, I have to believe my daughter's alive."
During her last two weeks on the island, Twitty says, she had started to fear for her own safety as strangers followed her everywhere she went. One man in particular stood out because of the scars on his face.
"I'd be in the laundromat and he'd show up. I'd go to a restaurant, and a minute or two later, he'd be there. I feel like I need to be more cautious now, but they're not going to stop me from looking for Natalee."
Twitty's husband, family members, friends and strangers all talk about her strength. "Beth amazes me," says Jug Twitty, a manager at Phoenix Metals, a diversified metals processor in Birmingham. "I totally admire what she's done."
"Frankly, I never would have anticipated she had this much strength and courage," her brother, a nursing home administrator in Houston, Tex., says. "She had to become stronger, to do this for her daughter."
Partial to jeans:
Physically, Twitty seems fragile, as if a bear hug might do her in. She is tall and thin - down 14 pounds from her normal 134. She's partial to blue jeans and sandals, and bears a striking resemblance to the actress Marg Helgenberger, down to the shoulder-length reddish-blond hair.
In public, Twitty smiles most of the time. Even so, her blue-gray eyes seem haunted by the things she's heard and seen, and by all that she's still looking for.
"Some of the places we've had to go to look for my daughter would make you sick," she says in that now-familiar flat Southern accent. She's talking about the Aruban crack houses, the live-girl shows and the other seedy places she and Jug have gone in the middle of the night when the phone rings with a Natalee sighting.
"We'd get a call about a body on the side of the road, and we'd rush out to see if it was Natalee," Twitty says. "It got to where you'd sleep with your clothes on so you could just get up and run."
The Twittys' life here is vastly different. They live in a split-level brick home off Overton Road, modest by Mountain Brook standards and, until Natalee's disappearance, happily concerned themselves with children, family, friends and church. The couple attends Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church in Cahaba Heights.
On television, Twitty has appeared in the company of an endless assortment of female friends, mostly her age, who appear devoted to both her and Natalee. They answer Twitty's mail, schedule her interviews and step in front of the cameras themselves when Twitty gives the word.
Many of those friends are part of a network that goes back more than a decade. It started with a group of seven male friends from the Birmingham area, including Jug Twitty, who went on hunting trips together. As they married, their wives became part of the "Fabulous Seven," as did their children.
The seven families vacation together, share holidays and weekend dinners and help raise each other's kids. When Beth married into the group five years ago, six couples joined her and Jug on their Mexican honeymoon. And when Natalee disappeared, those same six couples were at their side in Aruba.
"Natalee has seven sets of parents," group member Betsy Koepsel says. "We have 23 kids all together."
With Twitty back home, Koepsel and others, including Twitty's teacher friends, have set up a kind of command post in the home of one of The Seven, Marcie DeBardeleben. Earlier this week, DeBardeleben's former storage room was a beehive of organized activity, as volunteers sorted the tens of thousands of e-mails, letters and keepsakes that have poured in since Natalee's disappearance.
"I found one letter addressed to `Beth Holloway Twitty, U.S.A.,'" Koepsel says. "Or people will write, `Beth Twitty, Alabama,' or "Beth Twitty, Aruba,' and they always find their way to her."
Twitty is determined to answer them all. "I want to respond to everyone who's reached out to me," she says. "Without them, I don't think I could have stood this."
People have sent her CDs with music they recorded especially for Natalee. There are rosary cards, religious statues, hand-made quilts and books about hope. Every day, Twitty picks a tiny cross or angel that a well-wisher has sent and carries it in her pocket.
The letters and e-mails are sorted by state, so that she can show them to legislators and congressmen across the country to ask for their support. She is asking Americans to consider not traveling to Aruba until Natalee is found and brought home.
Some of the letter-writers tell Twitty of dreams in which they've seen Natalee in a well, or dead in the water. Many letters are three pages or more - from across the U.S. and around the world. Most offer support and prayers to the family, and for those she is especially grateful.
There have been a few e-mails and blog posts accusing Twitty of being a media hound. Her friends and family know her as anything but. "Beth's actually kind of a quiet person, and private," DeBardeleben says.
Bruce Roberts, a friend of Twitty's since their high school days in Pine Bluff, Ark., agrees. "She's never been a flashy person. At school, she was kind of quiet, not a cheerleader or anything like that. Just nice, friendly Beth."
Twitty grew up in the town of 50,000, the daughter of the late Paul Reynolds, an entrepreneur and nursing home owner, and Ann Reynolds, who worked for a savings and loan company. The family attended the small Methodist church across the street from their home and spent summers at their Hot Springs lake house swimming, boating and skiing.
Twitty, at 45, is the youngest of the three Reynolds children. Her other brother, John, 49, the middle child, is an entrepreneur in Arkansas, where their mother still lives. Twitty earned a master's degree in speech pathology at Arkansas State University and married her college sweetheart, Dave Holloway, the father of Natalee and her younger brother, Matt, who lives with his mother and stepfather.
Beth and Dave settled in Jackson, Miss., but eventually divorced. They continued to live in the same neighborhood until Beth remarried and moved to Mountain Brook in 2000. Holloway, with his wife, Robin, and their two kids, moved to Meridian, Miss., where he runs a State Farm Insurance agency.
Holloway says Beth never sought the media attention. Rather, it came to her and latched on. "My opinion is, there was just no other news to come across that day. And some TV executive decided, let's go on vacation in Aruba," Holloway says.
The media has remained focused on his ex-wife, Holloway says, because she's the one who was able to stay in Aruba all summer and keep the story going. "Beth's a schoolteacher, so she was off all summer, but I had to come back and go to work," Holloway says.
"When reporters call, I try to accommodate them. But I'm not near a major news center, so they have to send a truck to get me on camera. So there's that extra cost involved."
People who know Twitty say the soft-spoken, down-to-earth mom seen on TV is exactly who Twitty is. "She adores children," says Carol Standifer, who, in her former job as special education director for Mountain Brook schools, hired Twitty for her current job. "I was with her in Aruba, and I can honestly say that Beth was at her most relaxed when she was handing out Natalee bracelets to schoolchildren."
While away, Twitty says, she worried about Matt, who just turned 17. "Now that I'm home, I see that Matt's fine and I don't worry anymore. Every mother in Mountain Brook was looking after him."
Matt pulls up to their house in his new Toyota Tundra and comes in to hug his mother. When he smiles, his braces show. Matt's approach to Natalee's disappearance is different from his parents'. "I try not to think about it," he says, then heads off to his room.
Natalee's bedroom is off limits to reporters. "I don't think she'd like people looking at her things," Twitty says. Natalee's favorite movie is "The Wizard of Oz," and she has a collection of Oz-related items. A favorite line from the movie now has special meaning for the family: As young Dorothy acknowledged, "There's no place like home."
Mother and daughter were very close, the result, Twitty says, of her long tenure as a single mom. The two loved to shop.
Twitty says she plans to start a foundation one day in Natalee's honor, using money left over from donations for the search. Those donations, in an Amsouth Bank account, have helped fund the family's stay in Aruba and paid for lawyers and investigators they've hired. Twitty says she has no idea how much money has been collected, though a fund-raising auction of Hollywood-related items, donated by Mountain Brook native Courteney Cox, raised more than $110,000. A $1 million reward for the safe return of Natalee was funded by private sources.
"I couldn't live with myself if something good doesn't come out of this," Twitty says. She is firm in her belief that she's done all she can to find Natalee. "No second guesses whatsoever," she says. Twitty is less sure about things she might have done before Natalee's disappearance.
"I think anybody, under these circumstances, would wonder whether you could have said or done something more. But none of that matters now."
Twitty maintains a quiet dignity, even as she finds it hard to sit still. "I feel like I need to be doing something all the time," she says. "I don't feel like I can slow down."
She credits God for her strength and talks about her faith with her supporters, including old friend Bruce Roberts in Arkansas. He recently organized a prayer service in Pine Bluff to honor Natalee and was surprised when Twitty took time to attend.
"I said to her, Beth, you're a hero," Roberts recalls. "She said, `No, I'm just a mom.'"
She has a truckload of class and grace.
If she were my daughter, those thugs would be dead by now.
...when she's not doing stupid things like stalking and publically harrassing principal suspects, accompanied by cameramen, against the advice of her lawyers.
BingBingBingBingBing - BOOK DEAL ALERT!
Prediction: Thread will be dumped on by the "I'm sick of Natalee" posters, who are tired of the coverage, and think the press should just drop it.
I agree and I'm one of them. I think it is a tragedy and I feel for the family, but enough is enough. Sure, keep us posted, but I don't need HOUR AFTER HOUR of coverage.
We know only the spin put out by various media and public relations people.
Justice can only be achieved when and if Joran and the Kalpoe brothers confess to their dastardly deed.
Then why did you click on this thread? If you don't like the coverage of the story........change the channel......or better yet, get rid of your T.V.
I don't blame them for carping. Everyone knows they were forced to open the thread at gunpoint.
In many ways I understand exactly how she feels.
After Joran's admission, I don't understand why he isn't still in jail and on trial.
Prayers for the Twitty's and Natalee. Gob Bless all of them.
Isn't FR great?? They allow people to post things that interest them, they never force you to open threads you don't like and...they allow #ssholes like you to post.
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