Janine Vaccarello Interview
(Co-Founder of the Natalee Holloway Resource Center)
On June 8th 2010, the Natalee Holloway Resource Center opened it’s doors in Washington, D.C.
What is the Natalee Holloway Resource Center?
What will their mission be?
We asked those questions and more to the Co-Founder of the Natalee Holloway Resource Center – Janine Vaccarello.
Q – Janine, as the co-founder of the Natalee Holloway Resource Center what are your job duties? Are you doing more of the hands on, day to day work or administration work?
A – Actually for this, I’m doing a little bit of both, because we did just launch June 8th (2010). Because Beth and I came together, and decided; Beth being Natalee’s mother, we decided to form the foundation. It’s important for us both to stay involved with it and to make sure that our mission is being executed properly. So, I actually work on developing all of our programs. We’re still working on curriculum that we can get out to schools nationwide. Traveling safe and crime prevention. So, I work on that. I also talk to the families that call in to our 24/7 Hotline about a missing person. I work directly with those families. So, I do a little bit of everything. Travel agents are contacting me directly to do a teaching program on the services they provide so they can provide the people that book through them these travel tips, which is great. That’s exactly what we wanted to hear. We wanted to hear that we were this spider web throughout our country that is going to help people think smarter when they travel and then also to help assist people that are in crisis mode.
Q – Is this Center something that you and Beth thought about doing for awhile? How did you meet Beth?
A – We actually met a little over a year ago. We met in May of 2009. We started working together I guess it was in February or March of 2009 and that was because I’m also the Chief Operating Officer of the National Museum of Crime And Punishment in Washington, D.C. One of our exhibit areas is Unsolved Cases. So, I was putting Natalee’s case up in that Unsolved Case section. In doing so, I got to work with Beth on that. That way, she could have a say in what our exhibit says. So, when we came together she flew here ‘cause she wanted to be here for the unveiling of it. We worked so well together and had so many of the same ideas that we thought why not form a foundation that helps people much like what Natalee went through and Natalee’s family went through. It took awhile to get the ball rolling and it also takes awhile to get all the paperwork together to form a non-profit. That’s a SOIC – 3 clearance. By the time we got through all of that, that being closer to 2010, we thought we wanted to wait ‘til Natalee’s 5 year missing anniversary to actually then launch the foundation. That way we can honor Natalee on her 5 year missing abduction.
Q – Are you familiar with the facts surrounding the disappearance of Natalee Holloway?
A – Yes.
Q – I’ve followed this case from the very beginning. I watched programs done by Nancy Grace, Larry King, Geraldo and on and on. There’s a few questions I’ve never heard anyone ask. First, what is the Drinking Age in Alabama?
A – It’s 21.
Q – What was the Drinking Age in Aruba?
A – I believe all Islands, like the Caribbean, are 18.
Q – So, when Natalee’s Senior Trip was in the planning stages, would papers have been sent home with the students telling them the Drinking Age was 18?
A – You know, I doubt that happens. I mean, I can base this on when even I was in school. Our Senior Trip was always to the Bahamas which was also 18. We never had forms that came home. I think it’s just something that is known. I don’t think that the schools leave it up to the parents to have that conversation with their children.
Q – Did the school provide chaperones to the students going to Aruba?
A – I don’t know if the school provided the chaperones, but, there were chaperones.
Q – Maybe the parents of the students taking the trip?
A – I don’t know if the roster were all parents or any teachers too. But, there very definitely were chaperones.
Q – Do you know how many chaperones?
A – No.
Q – Would a chaperone have accompanied Natalee and the group of girls the night they went into Carlos And Charlie’s?
A – I actually don’t think there were chaperones in that bar, but, I’m not 100% certain. But, I don’t think they were in there.
Q – That’s a critical question. If a chaperone had been in attendance, then the girls would have gone in together and all left together.
A – That wasn’t a group activity though. They went there on their own. That wasn’t necessarily a group activity. High School had actually already ended. They had finished high school. Even though it was a Senior Trip it was post graduation.
Q – Do you think Beth would know the answers to those questions?
A – She would.
Q – Can you ask her those questions for me?
A – She probably won’t want to answer those questions to be honest. The reality is, it was still up to them, the people in the bar to all come back together, in a buddy system. There was no chaperones to my knowledge. Even when you watch the documentary that Beth did with ‘Lifetime’, it shows no chaperones. Beth actually helped write that with Lifetime. So, I’m almost positive there was no chaperone.
Q – That is unfortunate. Had there been a chaperone in attendance, Natalee Hollaway might not have gone missing.
A – Yeah, probably. Again, without totally blaming the school in Alabama for this, to my knowledge any school that goes to an island that is a Senior Trip type of program they do give the students time to go off on their own much like when someone is in high school their parents give them time to go out and about in the town. It’s unlike when you’re a younger child and your parents are required to pretty much stay with you. When you get at that age the chaperones are not there to be a babysitter.
Q – I’ve never heard anyone ask those questions about forms being sent home and chaperones.
A – In high school, and I’m from Florida we would go to the Bahamas. They didn’t regulate our every move. Beth did spend a lot of time coaching Natalee on dos and don’ts and to be wise. But, like we say in our travel program that we have, you let your guard down especially when you’re travelling somewhere like that. That whole island feel that is part of any resort island is very hospitable so you don’t feel like you’re in danger. That’s not to say you aren’t, but, that’s where the exact danger lies. You have this false safety around you. That’s where we’re trying to educate people nationwide on saying don’t let your guard down. You use the buddy system. You shouldn’t wander off alone. The reality is if the girls did use a buddy system that night, that wouldn’t have happened either. But, Natalee went off on her own.
Q – Since your center opened have you been overwhelmed with calls for assistance?
A – No, because and I don’t actually have the concrete number for you because all of our calls go through our call center which operates out of Orlando, Florida. A lot of the calls are just random questions, miscellaneous questions. There’s other people that call - a lot of runaways call in. A lot of people that their kids are runaways or their young adults are runaways or even adults. If they’re children we actually turn it over to National Center of Missing And Exploited Children immediately. We went to try and work in tandem with them. We don’t want to replace what they do. National Center of Missing And Exploited Children have so many resources. Of course John Walsh from ‘America’s Most Wanted’ started that. America’s Most Wanted Studio is part of our museum, The National Museum of Crime And Punishment. They actually film and operate out of our museum. So, there’s a very close relationship between the National Center of Missing And Exploited Children because of that. Any cases that are kids we immediately refer over to them. So, we are only handling the adult cases. If they’re considered runaway adults there’s really not much law enforcement is going to do if they’re not in danger, if it’s someone who just decided to walk away from life. Our target audience is very specific. It’s like the Natalee Holloways of the world. Luckily that’s a small niche. We have right now I would say 10 active cases which isn’t a lot. The rest fall into other catergories.
Q – What do you have on exhibit in the Natalee Holloway case?
A – The exhibit section of Unsolved Cases we have 10 unsolved cases featured in the exhibit area. Natalee’s board has a couple of different pictures of her and then it talks about the case, the developments of the case, what happened.
Q – In looking at what the Center does, it says: “Provide plan of action for process of assisting missing persons search and recovery”. I always thought the police would be the people to go to for that.
A – Absolutely. The police are immediately going to start their process of search and recovery. But what the police are not going to do id they’re not going to create your missing poster for you. They’re going to start their job which is to find that missing person; I would say qualifying is it a runaway? Is it someone in danger? They’re going to start looking down those leads. People that are children are handled differently than people who are adults. So, what we help do is create that missing poster. We send out a press release for the family. We also ask to act as their spokesperson to the media if they want. We also, and this is extremely important and this is something people wouldn’t think about doing is because hopefully they’ve never been in this situation before, is to create a Command Center. Nobody is really going to be around to tell them to do this. This is something they need to come to on their own or that someone else would suggest to them. The Command Center is critical because that’s where volunteers go to help distribute the missing posters, where people can go to make donations. A lot of times families need the financial assistance in the Search And Recovery process. So, we tell them how to go about doing that, why it’s necessary. All the things you wouldn’t think of because you wouldn’t have lived through it hopefully.
Q – You also, “Provide resources, services and products to the families of missing persons”. What services and products are you providing?
A – Well, the services are sending out a national press release which is huge. That’s something that nobody provides. That’s enormous. If there could be one thing that’s huge it’s that. I feel that everything we do is important, but that is probably the most important because media is critical in the recovery process. We also provide them other resources, depending on what their needs are. Say it’s a runaway; we provide them with contact information to have that organization get involved to help them. There’s some organizations that provide travel assistance, again just depending on the needs. Every case is different. There’s some families that don’t want a lot. They feel like they need peer counselling. We put them in touch with other peers who are going through similar situations.
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