Neighbors suffer with loss of baby
By MARTY ROSEN
©St. Petersburg Times, published December 3, 1997
From the first, when Sabrina Aisenberg was little more than a
mother's dearest wish, Judy Bailey was a part of her life story.
Marlene Aisenberg suspected she was pregnant with a much-wanted
third child. It was her friend Judy who urged her to use the extra
home pregnancy kit she had stowed in a cabinet. It was Judy who
answered the door the next day to find a hopeful Marlene, waving
a kit with the faintest pink line.
"I don't know, Mar, it looks pretty good to me," Bailey said.
Marlene Aisenberg was at the heart of a circle of seven young
mothers, all of them raising families in a new neighborhood built
from swamps and cow pastures, and her pregnancy was theirs to
celebrate. The women jostled to give her a baby shower. They took
turns helping Marlene run her play school and marveled at her
energy weeks after Sabrina's June 27 birth as she sang and danced
and tumbled on brightly colored mats with a jumble of 2-year-olds.
Baby Sabrina, watching the games from a car seat, was the other
children's baby, too.
She vanished from her home Nov. 24, leaving Bailey and the other
mothers struggling to explain to their children, and themselves,
how a baby could disappear.
"They didn't just take a baby. They took the life out of the Aisenberg
family and everyone who knew Steve and Marlene. There's a ripple.
Basically, they have taken a baby from an entire community," Bailey
She spoke in the hope that her message will reach whoever took
5-month-old Sabrina from her crib and that they will bring her
home; that they will understand the damage they've done to the
parents and their other children, William, 8, and Monica, 4.
"You can't imagine the pain she's in. I've seen her, and it's
not the same Marlene," Bailey said. "I want them to know what
they've done. It's damaged their lives forever. William and Monica's
lives will not be the same. They're going to be afraid in their
Life has been permanently changed on Colusa Way and Springville
Drive and Warmspring Way, where the builders supplied alarm systems
that many new homeowners, including the Aisenbergs, never bothered
to connect. What could possibly happen in a neighborhood so secluded
that even friends needed a road map to navigate the gently winding
labyrinth of cul-de-sacs and dead-end streets?
The answer, as it turns out, is the unthinkable.
The kidnapping of Sabrina, taken from her crib while her parents
slept, has shattered every sense of security, down to the littlest
child, Bailey said. William Aisenberg worried that whoever stole
his sister could come back and take him, too. Sabrina slept in
his old room.
"I'm not going to let anything happen to you," his mother told
him, then told her friend how she grappled with the horrible truth
behind that promise.
Judy Bailey's daughter, Amy, played with Monica Aisenberg last
week. She could hear them play a make-believe game of looking
for a missing puppy. It became a game of looking for lost babies.
Then they searched the Baileys' house for Sabrina.
Bailey met Marlene Aisenberg four years ago, when she was pushing
her daughter's stroller. She had a vivid first impression of a
bubbly, energetic woman with a tumble of soft brown curls. Marlene
was waving a flier, announcing Playtime Pals. It was a play group
for moms and toddlers, a natural venture for an early-childhood
education major whose life revolved around children. Mrs. Aisenberg
is a confident and loving parent, her friends said, a mom so devoted
to the creativity of childhood that she let children play with
magic markers inside her house.
"There's a way about her," Bailey said. "She's able to get kids
involved and get them to feel good about themselves."
Dozens of friendships among the suburban mothers developed at
the play school, including the bond between the women in Bailey's
circle. They shared a ladies night out, when husbands stayed with
the kids and mothers ate dinner out or shopped at the Brandon
mall. They were in and out of each other's homes, none more than
a few blocks apart. When Sabrina disappeared, Marlene called Judy
after notifying the Sheriff's Office.
"Sabrina's gone. Someone took her from her crib," she said, as
Judy struggled to comprehend. "I just had to call. I had to tell
The pain only has been amplified by suggestions that the Aisenbergs
were responsible for their child's abduction because they were
caught smiling by television cameras. Sheriff's officials have
since said they are treating the case as a kidnapping and don't
consider the parents suspects.
Bailey, who spoke to the Times Tuesday on behalf of the women's
group, said the Aisenbergs are loving parents. Steve Aisenberg,
who sells new homes, insisted on spending time with the family
when he was off work. No one knew of any enemies. No one could
imagine that either parent could harm a child.
As she spoke, her telephone rang repeatedly with calls from other
mothers, asking for news, looking for fliers to post, seeking
support through a crisis that has no foreseeable conclusion. A
sheriff's patrol car remains outside the Aisenberg home, and an
FBI agent has been stationed inside around the clock. A plea from
sheriff's investigators and Marlene's father on Larry King Live
Monday brought in 23 leads, but none have produced results. Sheriff's
Maj. Gary Terry was scheduled to appear on Dateline NBC Tuesday,
and Lt. Greg Brown, the sheriff's spokesman, was interviewed by
MSNBC and Inside Edition, as the story attracts more national
Meanwhile, the friends take turns sitting with the family. Albertsons
sent over a Thanksgiving dinner and has supplied daily meals.
The toddlers at the play school have asked for Miss Marlene. "Where's
baby?" they ask.
The adults grieve for the transformation in both Steve and Marlene
"She's just a zombie, living moment to moment, waiting for the
phone to ring," Bailey said. "I just want to take the pain away
from her, and there's nothing I can do.
"All I can do is pray and look at every baby that passes by."
©Copyright 2006 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.