I was 9 years old when Andy disappeared. I was old enough to know that people weren’t physically capable of vanishing but I was too young to understand why the adults searching for Andy couldn’t seem to find him. Nothing was ever explained to Andy’s childhood friends. Once the search parties ended, life went on as usual. But nothing was the same. There were obscure warnings not to talk to strangers and explicit warnings to stay away from “black vans’ or anyone that asked for helping finding a lost pet. But none of us neighborhood kids were ever taught how to cope with Andy’s loss. And, truthfully, as children of single parents in a government-subsidized housing project suffering loss was nothing new; Andy’s loss became one of many.
I grew up, but somehow Andy’s memory lingered. There was the time when I came home from high school and Andy’s story was on the local news. The police had brought in a psychic and were going to dig the area behind the pool. In college a friend returned from a vacation in Cape Cod with a page he had torn out from a real-estate magazine: it was a missing child’s poster with Andy’s picture.
I decided I wanted to be a social worker so I could help kids who come from places like Lawrence. As I was about to graduate, I became aware of the film program at my school and was convinced that if I combined my social concern with filmmaking I might be able to help more people than I could with direct care.
After years of working on other people’s films, it was time to make my own. I knew it would have to be something I was passionate about. My day job, personal interests and financial security would have to take second place.
I decided to make a film about Andy. I knew nothing other than what I remembered the day Andy disappeared more than 20 years before. In 1998, after several days of working up the courage, I contacted Andy’s mother. I wasn’t sure whether she would even remember me. I told her that Andy was my friend and that I had never forgotten him. I asked if she’d be willing to tell me Andy’s story. We cried and reminisced about the little boy we both loved. She contacted other family members and production began. In the beginning my crew consisted of me and whatever cameraman would be willing to give me a reduced day-rate while shooting video and recording sound.
After a few months of filming, Andy’s brother suggested I contact the local newspaper to see whether they could help. The Lawrence Eagle Tribune ran a Sunday story on the front-page that featured a PO Box I had set up for people to contact me. I was amazed by the response. People wrote to say how much Andy’s abduction had affected their lives as children and their parenting today, grandmothers wrote in to offer advice, prison inmates mailed in confidential tips and psychics suggested areas where they said Andy was buried. I was suddenly inundated with requests from other media outlets - each of whom asked me to turn over my raw footage so they could tell Andy’s story. I turned down their offers and continued filming.
In 2002, after three separate cadaver dogs reacted in the same location near where Andy had disappeared, police agreed to dig the area. It was undoubtedly the most difficult day of filming I’ve ever experienced. On one hand I had to make sure the shot was covered, on the other it seemed likely that we might actually find Andy’s remains. It was important to keep filming. Frankly, I thought I would be sick. By now I had a regular DP, Steve McCarthy, who gave me the task of labeling tapes to keep my mind off the reality of what we were filming. We filmed off and on for the next 4 years. The emotional rollercoaster was never-ending.
For me, telling Andy’s story is much more than the process of making my first independent film. It is a personal voyage back into a traumatic past where children were survivors as well as victims; a time where we were happy and, yet, incredibly sad. “Have You Seen Andy?” is a story that exposes the subtleties of class distinction for the smallest and most vulnerable in our society, children, who should be cared for and protected despite their background.
It is my goal to use this film to motivate and educate a broad audience. I hope it encourages families and friends of missing children to join together, continue their own search and hold law enforcement accountable. I would like to see it inspire policy reform in the legislature so that missing children’s cold cases come under an umbrella agency and are reviewed on an annual basis. An extensive outreach campaign is planned for “Have You Seen Andy?” in 2007.