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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Kimberly Holtzman poses with two of her children, Michael, 8, and Breanna, 10, in their home.

Area woman uses past abuse to help others

– Her passion for kids masks the turmoil Kimberly Holtzman says she’s been through.

Or, perhaps the two go hand-in-hand.

The abuse occurred when she was about age 11, she says. Holtzman can’t remember precisely. Some details are blurred after 25 years. Some she’d rather forget.

But she has put it past her enough to tell a stranger what happened. This is the first time she’s done that, she says. Her eyes mist only once in the telling.

She’s doing it just to get to the present and tell how she wants to help children, give strength to other abuse victims, and to be proactive and positive. She has started a business aimed at preventing child abductions. She has contacted local police to ask how she might help. She’s thinking about initiating a safety fair for families. She has just started, but Holtzman says there might be other ways she can help parents protect their children.

Still, there’s a sense that repeating the story is another way to further bury the past.

“Quite honestly, there’s a lot I don’t remember,” Holtzman said.

It boiled down to two counts of child molesting. It happened in 1986. Holtzman was a student at Jefferson Middle School in Fort Wayne. But it would be two years before the allegations surfaced and a man was charged. In that time, with her parents divorced, she moved in with her father who had remarried and was living in Columbia City.

A failed suicide attempt by a drug overdose finally led Holtzman to disclose her claims of abuse to her dad and step-mother, according to court records.

“They did everything they could for me,” Holtzman recalls. “I was definitely a problem child.”

Police and Child Protective Services became involved. A trial loomed.

Holtzman says she was somewhat sheltered from the proceedings leading to the trial of the man charged with molesting her. She remembers talking to police officers and the case weighing on the family.

She was a freshman in high school in 1988 when the trial date arrived. She remembers the jury and being on the witness stand where she bawled “like crazy.”

She was asked some general questions and a specific one about abuse that allegedly occurred on the day of a roller skating party she attended, she said. She left the stand and returned to a private room away from the court proceedings.

Then, in what seemed like a matter of minutes, Holtzman said, it was over. Not guilty.

The prosecutor delivered the news.

“All I remember him saying is ‘We lost,’ ” she recalls.

In presenting its evidence, the state had failed to show the defendant was older than 16. Court records list the man’s age as 29 at the time of the trial. But the judge granted the defense motion “reluctantly,” according to court papers, and the case was closed on a technicality.

The Journal Gazette is not naming the man because of the not-guilty finding.

“It was obviously apparent that he was a middle-age guy,” said Fort Wayne attorney Mark Keifer, who as a prosecutor then handled the case. “To me it wasn’t a question. We presented what we thought was a fairly solid case and the judge disagreed with us. And it happens sometimes.”

Of course, even if the case had proceeded there was no guarantee the outcome would be different. As in so many similar cases, it was a matter of he said-she said, according to Keifer.

But the way it ended left Holtzman believing that justice was not served.

“I wanted to see some sort of punishment,” Holtzman said. “The rest of that day, quite honestly, is an absolute blur.”

And the rest of high school was shaky. Holtzman describes herself then as “a good kid and a troubled kid at the same time.” She continued to have suicidal thoughts.

All of her insecurities followed her into adulthood.

She held odd jobs after high school: a pizza restaurant; a fast-food burger joint. Dead-end jobs, she says.

But her life brightened when she began having children. Holtzman eventually would have six. She started talking to others about the past, working it out in her mind. She ended up as a stay-at-home wife for 10 years.

“I thought, ‘What better place to be than home,’ ” she said.

By that time home was in Angola. But events in her life would change that.

Her dad, who she describes as a bedrock in her life, died in 2000. And when she and her husband divorced a few years ago, Holtzman decided to move back to Columbia City, the town that took care of her during the worst, she said.

She also started classes at the University of Saint Francis with an emphasis on clinical laboratory science. She’s now a sophomore and a mom with kids at home, ages 3 to 19.

That mom, now 39, seems content. But she is worried for other parents, which bring us to Holtzman’s current passion.

Leafing through an entrepreneur business magazine, she noticed a piece on a service called Child Shield U.S.A. Holtzman calls it “an abduction prevention and recovery service.”

Parents pay $15 a month to store a video of a child with the company. The price also includes nationwide distribution of the video to law enforcement agencies if a child comes up missing, services of a private investigator and a $50,000 reward. Child Shield U.S.A. is endorsed by Oprah Winfrey and John Walsh of “America’s Most Wanted.”

Holtzman makes some money from each subscriber she signs up, but it’s not a lot, she says.

Her wider concern, she maintains, is preventing child abuse and abduction by giving parents information they need. She calls the business “my positive flip” on her past.

She feels so strongly about the topic that she met with Columbia City Police Chief Tim Longenbaugh last week to talk about how she might help. Longenbaugh said he was pleased with the offer and described Holtzman as “really passionate” about getting involved in her community.

She also called former prosecutor Keifer to talk about her case.

“Obviously, it was a traumatic event for her,” Keifer said. “It would be for anybody. I’m glad she’s found a way to make something positive out of it.”

Holtzman understands that she’s not living in a town that’s a hotbed for crime and abductions. Then she mentions the April Tinsley case. Tinsley, an 8-year-old Fort Wayne girl, was abducted, raped and suffocated in 1988. Her body was dumped in a DeKalb County ditch, and her killer has not been found.

Holtzman wants to prevent another Tinsley death.

“Why not be armed with as much information as possible,” she said. “Hopefully, nothing ever happens. Educate, educate, educate. Learn as much as you can as a parent to educate your children.”

So how does she connect her trauma as a child to her life today? How does she characterize it all?

“Everything happens for a reason,” she said. “I didn’t know what it was then. I’m not absolutely positive about it now. But I can feel that I’m on the right track. Without what happened then, I wouldn’t be considering what I am now.”