My absolute worst fear in life is that someone is going to take one of my children. I have two 7-year-old boys who are extremely outgoing and social. And despite my constant warnings of stranger danger, I often fear it wouldn’t take much to lure them into a stranger’s car. It would probably also be frighteningly easy to distract me for the few seconds it would take to separate me from my kids.
Sadly, the story of 15-year-old Jasmine Block from Alexandria, Minnesota is the stuff my nightmares are made of. But at least in this case, it has a happy ending.
As The New York Times reports, Block was missing for 29 days. Her face was all over the news media, and I can only imagine what her family was going through while they waited for her to come home. I’ll be honest, after 29 days, I don’t know if I’d still be holding out hope that a missing child would ever come home to me again.
Like it or not, there are bad people in this world. Sick, twisted individuals who would do unspeakable things to innocent, trusting children. There are people who watch, who stalk, and who wait for the window of opportunity — and then they pounce.
People like Thomas Barker and his two friends, Joshua Holby and Steven Powers. (Remember those names.)
Fortunately though, there are good people in this world, too. People who make a difference. People who do their part to counterbalance the ugly that walks among us.
One such person is Earl Melchert, also from Alexandria, Minnesota.
Melchert had been on his way to work one day when he had to turn back home to get a diesel can he’d forgotten. Melchert wanted to fill the can on his way home from work that evening so he could mow his lawn.
As The Times reports, it was at that moment that he caught sight of Jasmine Block moving in the field near his house. Initially, he mistook her for a deer. But it wasn’t long before he recognized her as the missing girl from Alexandria. Melchert had seen her face on the news and on posters in stores everywhere.
Soon after, Melchert called the police and the story unfolded from there. Block had been lured away from her home by 32-year-old Barker, a family acquaintance. Barker claimed he needed Block to help him with a family issue. Barker was a familiar face and so Block got into the car with him, no questions asked.
Barker, along with Holby and Powers, reportedly kept 15-year-old Jasmine Block restrained with zip ties for nearly a month, while they sexually and physically assaulted her and threatened her with weapons.
The three men also moved Block to various locations, ending with an abandoned house near Melchert’s property. But one day, when Barker, Holby and Powers all left to get food, this tenacious and brave young lady escaped. This was the first time she’d been left by herself and despite the trauma she’d experienced, she managed to get out of the abandoned house. Block knocked on doors, and when she didn’t get a response, she swam across the lake near Melchert’s property to get to his house.
If he hadn’t turned around to get his forgotten gas can that day, he wouldn’t have seen her at all.
It breaks my heart just to think about what Jasmine Block went through. Knowing there are people out there who would do this makes me lose my faith in humanity. It makes me want to never let my children out of my sight again.
What these three men allegedly did makes me physically ill, but the fact that Melchert was placed in her path and helped her? That give me chills. You can call it luck, fate, stars aligning, or maybe even divine intervention, if you believe in that kind of thing. I’m just thankful that Melchert is a good person who called the police. He is one of the helpers we all hope our children find if they’re in harm’s way.
While Melchert and Block were waiting for the police to arrive, a car belonging to Steven Powers drove by. Block recognized the car and was able to give the police information leading to the subsequent arrests of Barker, Holby, and Powers.
But here’s the really touching part: Melchert, who recently retired from his job at a fertilizer plant, received a $7,000 reward for finding the missing teen. Block’s family put $2,000 towards the reward and an anonymous donor put up the other $5,000.
But Earl Melchert didn’t keep a penny of that money. He gave it right back to the Block family, where he felt it rightfully belonged.
“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” Melchert said in an interview with NYT. “To me, yeah, that’s a lot of money but they [the family] need it worse than I do.”
Overwhelmed by the attention, Melchert, a self-described “country boy” goes on to call Jasmine Block the real hero.
Earl Melchert and Jasmine Block are both heroes in my eyes. And, while this incident affirms the fact that there are monsters out there who are waiting to hurt my children, should I drop my guard, it also reminds me that there are every day heroes out there, too. Ordinary humans that don’t think twice about doing the right thing. People, like Melcher, who say things like, “What a retirement present, to hand over some money to people who really need it.”