We first met Kayla in 2018. We had just purchased a home in McKees Rocks, PA and two months after we moved in we threw a block party to get to know our neighbors and begin a conversation about working together to fix up an abandoned, trash-riddled lot that sat directly across the street from us.
I bought big beach balls for the kids to play with and with permission from the local police, we blocked off the street from traffic for a few hours for one bright, Autumn Sunday afternoon.
Neighbors spilled out onto the street, blinking their eyes in wonder and eventually everyone started to talk, connect, reminisce and enjoy the snacks and ice cream we’d provided for the afternoon get-together.
I saw Kayla sitting in a chair, her mother close by, watching her like a hawk. I went over to her and offered her some ice cream and she recoiled shyly and shook her head.
Kayla has Down Syndrome and even though her parents had fallen on hard times over the years, like so many in McKees Rocks, it was easy to see her mother especially was very protective of her.
Which is why when their house caught fire not long after the old woman that lived in the house the various family members occupied, was taken away on a stretcher one fateful afternoon, and each member was evicted from the house, it seemed as though Kayla was no longer part of their lives.
We wondered what happened to her even though we saw her mother and father walking around the neighborhood pretty regularly.
In June 2023, Kayla’s mother wrote on her Facebook page, “Well it’s been awhile since I talked to my baby girl Kayla, I am so lost without her, but I know one day I will be reunited with my baby girl, mommy loves you with all her heart.”
We assume Children and Protective Services must have removed Kayla from her parent’s custody, especially if they were made homeless after the eviction and perhaps placed her elsewhere which is why we were shocked and dismayed to see this news piece trending this morning all over the McKees Rocks social media community pages and has since become viral throughout the state of PA, the story now trickling its way across news sites across the country:
There are so many things wrong with this story.
First, there seems to be some confusion about where Kayla was living at the time of her disappearance. Some news sources say she was living in McKees Rocks, PA; others claim it was Braddock, PA and the source I linked above claim she was living in West Mifflin, PA. Wouldn’t a highly secured surveillance state at least be able to pin down where the child was living?
Frantic to find her, Kayla’s father has been very vocal on social media, diligently imploring neighbors to keep a look out for his daughter and announcing publicly how they are devastated at her disappearance.
Second, Sto-Rox School District announced that the day she disappeared was a distance-learning day, meaning children were kept home from school that day and would continue their schoolwork on their iPads or tablets at home. So the question begs why did ABC Transit, the transit company that is contracted with the school district, take Kayla to school? Doesn’t the School District communicate with their transit agencies that there is no in-school learning on certain days, therefore not to bother picking kids up?
Third, when the bus driver arrived with Kayla at the school and saw that the school was empty, why did he allow a child with limited capacity who has Down Syndrome to just wander off down the street to the local City Bus? My husband was a school bus driver at one point when we first moved to McKees Rocks and there is no doubt that had it been him driving Kayla, we would not be in this troubling predicament. He would have had the presence of mind to contact the transit agency and say “I’m not dropping these kids off at an empty school. Clearly there’s no school today and perhaps their guardians or parents didn’t get the message.” It’s clear the bus driver was negligent in this very basic protocol when arriving at an empty school.
Since I lived in that neighborhood for five years and could practically see the school from my front door and I took that very bus, the 24 West Park, almost daily to go to downtown Pittsburgh I know how easy it is to go from the High School where Kayla attended, to the bus stop where she was last seen. She most likely saw the school was empty then walked down the short hill to the 24 West Park. She at least has the intellectual capacity to take a City bus. In fact, she may have been attempting to make her way back to where she is living currently but perhaps got lost along the way.
Fourth, were Kayla’s guardians, whoever they are at this point, not made aware that there was no school that day? If they were made aware that there was no school that day, then why didn’t they keep her from getting on the school bus? Why didn’t they greet the driver and say “Didn’t you hear? There’s no school today.” Were Michele and Carlo, her parents, made aware that their daughter had no school that day? This begs the question how does the School District inform student’s parents or guardians that there’s no school? Generic messages on social media? Offical text messages? Letters in the mail? Emails?
Kayla’s disappearance, which is now past the 24 hour mark at the publication of this blog piece, has brought on another layer of complexity in my own mind about the alleged “surveillance state” so many are convinced we live under.
The only surveillance that I could see, which some might consider an invasion of privacy, is the image taken from the security camera affixed to the front of the establishment that is directly across the street from the bus stop where Kayla was last seen.
Allegheny County affixed a security camera on a light post in front of The Parkway Theater. I imagine it’s there to deter or capture any criminal activity that may take place in front of the business, but from my point of view it provided the best information to Kayla’s last whereabouts. It was the only thing that gave any of us a glimmer of hope to be able to find Kayla. After all, the School District is busy making public statements to keep themselves from being held accountable for her disappearance, the transit agency isn’t even responding to questions, the bus driver has most likely been told not to say anything, and I imagine the City bus driver for the 24 West Park, who delivered her to downtown Pittsburgh, has also probably been told not to say anything. The only helpful piece of information about Kayla’s whereabouts comes from that security footage taken from light post in front of The Parkway Theater.
But, if we do actually live in a highly surveilled state where our every move is tracked, then why has it been so impossible to locate this girl? Does she have a cell phone? Can it be tracked? Did her guardians put it in tracking mode so that this intellectually challenged girl could be found should anything like this ever happen? Are we actually living in a tightly controlled surveillance state when well-funded agencies are apparently not even talking to each other? A student has now gone missing and no agency, which boasts the safety of their students, has been able to find out anything. The police claim they are looking, which I don’t doubt they are committing every resource they have to find this child, but it’s as if she just disappeared off the face of the earth.
Before anyone accuses me of advocating for tracking and tagging intellectually challenged individuals, that is NOT what I’m saying. What I am trying to say is “Are we really living in the surveillance state we all think we are?” If so, then where is Kayla?