Nearly 20 years after 9-year-old Nancy Shoemaker was kidnapped from a south Wichita street, her parents still are asking, "What if?"
Nancy was abducted July 30, 1990, after walking a block and a half to a Phillips 66 station to buy some 7-Up that would soothe her 11-month-old brother's upset stomach.
What if, Julie Shoemaker asks, Nancy had agreed to stay home that morning while Julie went to the store? Nancy insisted she wasn't going to be left alone with a brother who was throwing up.
What if, Bo Shoemaker asks, the crosswalk light at Pawnee and Seneca had been working that day?
Never miss a local story.
Nancy was under strict orders to cross only when the "walk" light was on. Because one light wasn't working, she had to navigate the intersection by going west across Seneca, south across Pawnee, then back east across Seneca. She should have cleared the intersection well before her abductors arrived.
For the past few weeks, the Shoemakers have been dealing with an even bigger question: What if one of Nancy's two abductors is released from prison?
"Our main concern is that if either one of them gets out, whose little child will be next?" Julie Shoemaker said.
That's why the Shoemakers, who live in Pensacola, Fla., have been in Wichita for the past few days, doing media interviews, making public appearances and gathering signatures opposing the release of Donald Wacker.
Wacker, now 46, was convicted of helping Doil Lane kidnap Nancy, then driving her to Sumner County, where Lane raped and strangled her.
Lane, 49, was convicted and sentenced to life without parole for 66 years. He is serving a life sentence in Texas for a similar crime there.
"If he ever gets freed in Texas, he's got 66 years in Kansas waiting for him," Bo Shoemaker said.
On Saturday afternoon, after visiting two Davis-Moore auto dealerships where signatures opposing Wacker's release were being gathered, the Shoemakers stopped by the Parents of Murdered Children memorial in North Riverside Park. Nancy's name is etched into stone there along with dozens of other child murder victims.
The Shoemakers estimated they had more than 15,000 signatures opposing Wacker's release. The petitions will be presented to the Kansas Parole Board on Monday during a hearing on Wacker's proposed release.
The hearing will occur during a public comment session from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the third floor of the Finney State Office Building, 230 E. William.
It will be the third time Wacker has come up for parole.
The Shoemakers said eight of Nancy's relatives are coming from out of state to attend the hearing. Bo Shoemaker said Nancy's biological mother, who lives in Georgia, plans to attend for the first time.
Nancy's little brother, Jay, now 20, attends Pensacola Junior College and was unable to attend because of midterm exams.
Bo Shoemaker said he plans to ask the parole board some basic questions: If paroled, where will Wacker work? Where will he live?
Shoemaker said he plans to bring a map showing the locations of grade schools and day care centers that are near the southwest Wichita home of Wacker's parents — a place he said Wacker would likely return if released from prison.
Bo Shoemaker also said he plans to tell the Parole Board that Wacker was as much to blame for Nancy's death as Lane.
"What he did was wrong, but what he didn't do was even worse," he said. "He's the only one who could have stopped (Lane). He chose to do nothing."
Under Kansas law, the Parole Board could order Wacker's release, or order him held for another one to five years. At his last hearing in 2004, Wacker was ordered to serve at least five more years in prison.
"After the hearing we'll probably go get lunch, and head back home, then wait for the Parole Board to make their decision," Bo Shoemaker said.
He said if Wacker is ordered to spend more time in prison, he plans to return to Kansas every time Wacker has another parole hearing.
"I'd hate to have to be back here next year, but if that's what we have to do, we'll do it," he said.
'The other people'
As they gathered with friends at the Parents of Murdered Children memorial, the Shoemakers recalled the frantic seven-month search for Nancy before her remains were found. Bo Shoemaker said he temporarily gave up his job to look for her.
"That was my full-time job," he said.
"When you have a child taken, that rocks your world," Julie Shoemaker added.
In the weeks before Nancy's remains were found, the Shoemakers spent $150 to buy a list of every elementary school in the United States. They were in the process of sending each of those schools an envelope containing a letter, a flier and a picture of Nancy.
"We were desperate to find our child," Julie Shoemaker said.
When Nancy's remains were found Feb. 18, 1991, Bo Shoemaker said, the lives of all of Nancy's relatives were irrevocably changed.
"They say it always happens to other people," he said. "Well, we became the other people that day. "