Hurricane Aftermath:
Slim Chance of Finding Missing Kids


(Punta Gorda, Fla.) -- "I want to be skinny for Jim," Leanna Bascomb would tell her neighbors and fellow residents of the Bali Hai mobile home park in this small community recently devastated by hurricane Charley. The 310 pound mother of six had tried the usual mix of fad diets, exercise programs and fitness machinery in hopes of surprising her husband, Master Sgt. Jim Bascomb, a National Guard reservist currently serving a third tour of duty in Iraq.

"Our hearts went out to her, the poor thing," said Eileen Farrell, a registered nurse who used to babysit the Bascomb children, "especially after the tragedy." On April 12th, shortly after daybreak, Bascomb phoned police to report that she believed Belinda, the Bascomb's 13 year old daughter, had run away with her boyfriend Donny Marklin, age 16. Police questioned Donny at length without success, combed nearby wetlands and waterways and, after 3 weeks, abandoned the search. By late May Leanna had lost 30 pounds. "She was clearly under a lot of stress," added Farrell.

Then, in June, 11 year old Jason vanished during a family outing at the beach and was presumed drowned. No body was ever recovered, but Florida Gulf Coast currents are notoriously dangerous.

Sgt. Bascomb was given a 72 hour emergency leave and returned from Baghdad to console his wife and the four remaining Bascomb children. The emotional strain of the twin tragedies evidently continued its effect on Leanna's weight -- after a month she had dropped another 32 pounds.

It would seem that the Bascombs had seen more than their share of grief, but another cruel visitor was about to appear on their doorstep. His name was Charly. Packing 145 mile per hour winds, the hurricane made landfall south of Tampa, then took a surprise turn eastward and slammed into Punta Gorda. In the midst of billions of dollars worth of damage and countless casualties, few had time to notice that the four remaining Bascomb children, Elvin, 9, Laura Lee, 7, Jim Jr., 5, and Tabitha, 2, had vanished without a trace.

For a week they remained, along with scores of others, among the missing and unaccounted for. Sgt. Bascomb again returned from Iraq. Though equally devastated at the loss of both home and family, he promised Leanna, now a shapely 128 pounds, that they would rebuild their shattered lives. Two days later a F.E.M.A. disaster crew, while removing the twisted wreckage of the Bascomb's trailer, discovered beneath it the bones of all 6 of the Bascomb children.

"I wanted to be skinny for Jim," a tearful Leanna told arresting officers, adding, "I tried everything else, but only low carbs seemed to work."

But how, wondered police, could she have possibly eaten the 4 remaining children in a single night? "It was the stress of the hurricane, I guess. I just binged and purged," wept Leanna, "and then binged and purged some more. Children are like potato chips, you can't eat just one."

Master Sgt. Bascomb was philosophical. "Leanna's got a disease, it's not her fault. Anyhow, she looks damn good now, so I guess every storm cloud's got a silver lining."