Shortly after baby Lisa Irwin disappeared in October, Amy noticed other shoppers looking at her and her 10-month-old baby, Lucy, in the supermarket.
“I saw people peering down the aisles at me,” the Overland Park mother said. “But I convinced myself that they were probably just looking for a can of green beans or something.”
Then three older women surrounded her.
“How old is your baby?” they asked. One of them pulled down Lucy’s blanket and lifted the baby’s dress to inspect her legs.
Other shoppers whispered and pointed Amy’s way.
“They think this is baby Lisa,” she realized. The woman was checking Lucy’s leg for the birthmark on Lisa Irwin’s right thigh.
The incident — one of hundreds of potential baby Lisa sightings reported to police — ended with Overland Park officers following Amy home and leaving only after she presented Lucy’s vaccination records and insurance card.
“At that point, I was glad people were paying attention,” said Amy, who didn’t want her last name published because of fears for her baby’s safety. “I would want that if my baby were missing.
“I just thought, ‘Wow. What a day. It’s fluke.’ ”
But then it happened again. And again. Five times in all, Amy and her husband, David, have had to prove to law enforcement officers that they are indeed Lucy’s parents.
And that doesn’t count the times shoppers have cast dirty looks. Amy worries that someone is always watching her, judging her. She’s afraid to let anyone baby-sit Lucy because they might not be able to prove their relationship with her. She wonders how the negative attention is affecting her three other children.
The family is not convinced it’s over. Police visited their home last week in an incident that Amy ranks as the “worst of all.”
“I can’t tell you how emotionally this has affected me,” she said. “It’s to the point where I’m afraid of going out. It’s very upsetting.”
Amy and David are among hundreds of parents across the country and into Canada who have been asked to prove their relationship with their child because of baby Lisa’s case, Kansas City police said. Of the 1,419 leads received in the case, 422 of them are baby sightings.
But Kansas City police know of no other parents who have been repeatedly targeted like Amy and David.
• • •
When Lisa first disappeared Oct. 4, Amy paid close attention to the case.
“My heart was with the parents,” she said. “Obviously, I have a baby the same age, so I could really identify with them.”
Amy remembers thinking her baby resembled Lisa. They are about the same age and length and they share striking blue eyes. Lucy is a little thinner, Amy said.
“But never in a million years did it dawn on me that someone would report us to police,” she said.
The first incident made Amy want to bolt from the store and leave her groceries behind. Instead, she paid her bill and left in tears. She met her husband for lunch at Taco Bell, where Lucy drew stares from an older couple.
“They were just sitting there, not eating their food, just staring at us,” Amy said.
It didn’t help that Lucy was extremely fussy at the time, crying and pushing away from her parents.
Amy thought about saying something to the older couple but decided against it.
“I wanted to say, ‘This isn’t Lisa,’ ” she said. “But I figured it would just make me look more guilty.”
After David went back to work, Amy walked to her car and buckled Lucy’s car seat. The older man followed her outside and scribbled down her license number.
By now, Amy was drenched in sweat. She drove home, expecting to be pulled over. Sure enough, she said, an Overland Park officer began following her. He followed for three excruciating miles.
“I didn’t know what they were going to do,” she said. “I mean, if they think I have a kidnapped baby, I didn’t know if they were going to come out guns a-blazing or what.”
The patrol car didn’t stop her and Amy pulled into her driveway. Soon an officer knocked on her door.
He asked for her baby’s head circumference at birth. Amy didn’t know. She felt a bit inadequate.
The officer checked for Lisa’s birthmark, reviewed Amy’s paperwork and left.
A few days later, a Johnson County sheriff’s deputy showed up at her door. Again, Amy displayed her documentation and mentioned the Overland Park officer’s visit.
“I hope that doesn’t continue,” he told her.
But it did.
On Oct. 8, Amy and David went to Metcalf South Shopping Center. Her mother tagged along and bought David some work boots as a gift.
Not long after they returned home, someone knocked on their door. Amy’s 11-year-old daughter looked out the back window and saw a police officer in the back yard. Another officer was at the front door. There were three police cars. The 11-year-old was “freaked out,” Amy said.
The Overland Park officers brought surveillance photos of Amy taken at the mall — detailed images from every angle, including captions that referred to her as middle-aged and overweight. The terms stung.
“It makes you feel absolutely horrible as a person, the way they look at you, like you have a kidnapped baby,” Amy said. “I have no idea what my neighbors think with the police over here so often.”
After 20 minutes of questioning, the officers left. Amy got a police business card this time because she wanted to start documenting the visits.
A few days later, during a trip to Walmart, she noticed an older woman following her. Amy was looking for teething tablets, which were near the children’s cough medicine.
“Oh, does your baby have a cold?” the woman asked. Lisa reportedly had a cold when she disappeared.
“No,” Amy replied.
The woman followed her to the baby clothing area, where Amy looked for socks.
“What kind of mother doesn’t have socks for their baby?” the woman asked.
Amy explained that Lucy had outgrown her socks. “You need to leave me alone,” Amy told her.
Amy watched as the woman went to the customer service department. A store manager approached Amy. She refused to talk to him.
“If you think there is something wrong, then you should call the police,” she told him.
The police didn’t come for her — that time. But within a few days, she was again explaining herself to officers, who stopped her as she left a grocery store.
They took her baby from her while other shoppers stared at her. The officers searched her grocery bag and looked at her receipt.
“It was 15 minutes of me standing outside this store, having people look at me like I’d done something horrible,” she said. “Meanwhile, Lucy’s going crazy because this stranger is handling her. She’s at that age now where she is scared of strangers.”
Things calmed down in November and Amy thought the worst was over.
But on Nov. 30, when she returned home from an errand, her husband told her an officer had stopped by. David didn’t remember the officer saying where he was from.
Amy started to worry.
She called Overland Park police, who said they had not sent an officer. She called the sheriff’s office. Another no. Then she called Kansas City police. She had wondered why — in all this mess — they hadn’t paid a visit yet.
But Kansas City said it had no record of an officer going to their home.
“My heart dropped to my stomach,” she said. “I was wondering, ‘Who’s been inside my home asking about my baby?’ ”
A Kansas City commander called Amy back and told her she should file an impersonation report with Overland Park police “the minute you hang up from this call.”
Amy summoned Overland Park officers, who spent 45 minutes taking down every detail of the visit. They pulled nearby surveillance images to try to identify the man’s car. David and Amy checked how secure their front windows were and called their children’s school to make sure no strangers picked them up.
Four hours had gone by when the Kansas City commander again called Amy.
“I have egg all over my face,” he told her.
The man who had visited was a Kansas City investigator who had not yet logged the tip in the database.
• • •
Amy and David know that as long as Lisa is missing, the questions could continue.
Amy’s mother suggested Amy dress Lucy in boy clothes. Amy has thought about posting a note on her door that says, “If this is about baby Lisa, contact Kansas City police.”
Kansas City police personally investigate any leads they receive in the metropolitan area. Tips beyond an hour or two drive are delegated to the FBI.
Overland Park police said they don’t know if they ever notified Kansas City about the tips about Lucy.
Kansas City police said they are taking steps to improve communication among area law enforcement agencies for better record-keeping. They encourage people with tips to call the Tips Hotline at 816-474-8477 (TIPS) so the information will be routed directly to them.
Amy said she wants people who think they have spotted Lisa to call police, but not try to touch the baby or insult the parents.
“I guess one thing this has taught me is maybe don’t be so judgmental.”