Stephanie Lavoie remembers the day 16 years ago when her daughter, Lindsay, was born. Three months premature and weighing only one pound, 10 ounces, the blonde little girl was so fierce in her fight for life that Stephanie nicknamed her the "miracle child."
Sixteen years later, the miracle is that Lindsay is still alive.
"I beat myself up every day for not finding some way of preventing it," Stephanie says of the Internet nightmare that almost claimed her daughter last year. Susan Spencer reports.
The nightmare began in August of 2000 when 14-year-old Lindsay simply disappeared from the middle-class neighborhood near Tampa, Fla., where she lives with her mother, stepfather and brother.
Like many 14-year-olds, Lindsay was an Internet junkie, spending hours a day on the computer her mother had bought only six months before.
"She's a very free spirit and a loner," Stephanie says, "and just enjoys learning new things and seeing new things. I think she was just out there, looking for someone to talk to."
But Stephanie couldn't believe who Lindsay was talking to and what they were saying.
She found love letters to Lindsay from a man in Greece named Kon who longed, he wrote, to be Lindsay's husband, to be father to her children. She was 14 at the time, and in those letters, he stated that he was 35.
Even though he was in Greece, 5,000 miles away, Stephanie was worried enough to order her daughter to cut off contact.
"We explained to her that this was extremely upsetting and inappropriate," Stephanie told 48 Hours. Lindsay's reaction? "He just had her so wrapped by then, it was just too late to get her to change," Stephanie recalls, saying Lindsay told her " that she loved him and that he cared for her, and age shouldn't have anything to do with it."
The emails and letters just kept coming. Soon, the man began calling Lindsay in the middle of the night.
"He had our cell phone number,&148; Stephanie says. "He told me he knew where we lived. He said he was thinking of purchasing a home down the street. He was just controlling our life."
Stephanie tried everything - she ordered him to leave her daughter alone, she took the computer keyboard with her to work and put Lindsay into counseling.
She even sent the letters she'd found to the FBI and, Stephanie says, "they said there's nothing they could do."
Then on Aug. 28, 2000, Lindsay said she wasn't feeling well. Against her better judgment, Stephanie left her home alone while she went to her job as a legal secretary. When she got home, Lindsay was gone.
"I walked through her room, and I just looked everywhere for her," Stephanie says. "And I knew instantly he had something to do with it."
The local police listed Lindsay as a runaway but Stephanie knew there was more to it. "I felt so helpless," Stephanie recalls, "because I just knew and it seemed like no one wanted to listen, not until Sgt. Klinger came into the department."
Sgt. Gary Klinger, head of the Polk County sheriff's department missing persons unit, opened Lindsay's file two weeks after she'd disappeared.
"In the initial report, it said that she'd been corresponding with a 35-year-old man in Greece," Klinger says. "Well, that to me threw up a red flag."
Klinger was absolutely determined to get Lindsay back because, he says, "I would be absolutely frantic if it was my daughter."
He analyzed Lindsay's email records and finally identified her mystery man. He was a shady Internet entrepreneur named Franz Konstantin Baehring, a German national who was emailing Stephanie regularly, expressing his concern for Lindsay. He would tell Stephanie he had heard from Lindsay and that she was several states away or on the West Coast.
Klinger doubted a 14-year-old with no passport could've made it out of the country, but that belief changed when Baehring began implying that Lindsay was with him.
Klinger funneled information to the Greek police and urged Stephanie to keep the lines of communication open, to "play the game" with Baehring. The big break came when police traced Lindsay's instant messenger screen name to Thessoloniki, Greece. Police there decided to enlist the help of the press, and soon pictures of Baehring and Lindsay were on TV and in newspapers all over the country.
Someone in Thessoloniki saw Lindsay's picture on the news and called authorities. Police found her walking along a street near the center of town, apparently not realizing that Baehring was walking just a few yards away. Baehring saw Lindsay being taken into custody and just kept walking.
Greek police launched a search and within a day he was arrested at a home in Athens. They confiscated staggering amounts of pornography and evidence that Baehring hadn't acted alone, that he was part of a cyber-conspiracy using bogus documents and underground contacts to lure a vulnerable 14-year-old away from her family."
NEXT: Lindsay's Ordeal
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