In an ocean, one drop can’t be found. In a haystack, the needle is rarely discovered. In New York City, a missing child does not often come home.
However, this is Woodland Park, Colorado, a community of just over 7,200 individuals; this is the sort of town that prevents a person from going to the grocery store in their pajamas for fear of running into half the people they know. Here, water drops, needles, and missing girls are always noticed.
Alexandra Ponte went missing on September 4th, 2013. All of Woodland Park scoured the land in pursuit of her, desperately praying that the fourteen-year-old, loved by so many, would return home in pristine condition. Twelve days later, on September 16th, she did.
To clarify, the intent of this article is not to speculate about Ali’s story. That tale is hers and hers alone. The Panther Perspective makes no assumptions about the manner in which she disappeared, what occurred while she was gone, or how she and her family feel towards this event. Ali Ponte deserves the utmost respect and privacy from both this publication and the town of Woodland Park.
That being said, the impact of an AWOL teen on a rural community simply cannot be ignored. After losing five students in the past two years, Woodland Park is a bit on edge, and Ali’s disappearance inflamed past fears.
“I had no idea if she was safe,” said Erica Purcell, freshman, “and that’s why I worried. I worried every night for her.”
Purcell, a member of the varsity cheer squad, is one of Ali Ponte’s closest friends. Acquainted in middle school, the two took to each other quickly and are now deeply bonded as high school companions.
“I couldn’t even contact her. I texted her, but she didn’t answer the entire time she was gone,” remarked the girl. “But when she did come back, I was so happy. I was at cheer practice when I saw her. I ran up to hug her and we cried and held each other for about five minutes. I don’t think I ever cried so much as I did that night.”
Unlike Erica Purcell, Amanda Shoumaker, teacher, had no relationship to Ali Ponte, yet, when it came time to join her community in the search, she gladly pitched in. “Missing and exploited children are really a trigger for me,” explained Shoumaker, “the issue is close to my heart.”
For now, the community of Woodland Park, Colorado, smiles at its fortunes and at Ali Ponte, safe and sound. Collectively, we solemnly hope none of our children will be lost again.
But, hey, when all else fails, at least we can be assured we always have each other.
Check back in with The Panther Perspective soon for more stories about the Woodland Park community.