Missing Sabrina

Marlene and Steve Aisenberg hold onto each other and candles during a vigil held outside a neighbors home Dec. 22, 1997 for their missing daughter Sabrina. The couple is joined by Joan Sadowsky, Marlene's mother and Sabrina's grandmother.
(Times photo: Thomas M. Goethe)

Parents make a plea for Sabrina's return


©St. Petersburg Times, published December 24, 1997

TAMPA -- The parents of missing baby Sabrina Aisenberg made an emotional plea Tuesday for the return of the child they call "our little princess."

In a prepared speech delivered at their attorney's downtown Tampa office, Marlene and Steve Aisenberg asked whoever has 6-month-old Sabrina to return her to her family.

"The hole in our family right now is very large," said Steve Aisenberg, as he offered to find legal aid and seek leniency for his daughter's kidnapper. Sabrina vanished Nov. 24 from the crib in her parents' Bloomingdale home. The garage door had been left open, and an interior door was unlocked.

The Aisenbergs' plea came at a news conference that included sharp questions for their attorney, Barry Cohen, about his cooperation with sheriff's officials. Authorities say Cohen has refused to let them question his clients about their conduct until he is provided with copies of reports, memorandums and recordings taken before his involvement in the case. Cohen was hired two days after the baby vanished and the morning after the Aisenbergs underwent a tough grilling from detectives.

"This is hampering one aspect of the investigation," said sheriff's Lt. Greg Brown, who would not elaborate.

Cohen, who has tightly controlled media and law enforcement access to the couple, said he was cooperating fully. He also bristled in a brief exchange with a television reporter over an MSNBC report that wrongly identified a laughing sheriff's detective as Mrs. Aisenberg. That moment spawned speculation about the Aisenbergs' demeanor and its significance, but Cohen insisted Tuesday his client had remained somber on camera.

The reporter reminded Cohen that Sabrina's parents smiled as they left their home Nov. 25 with detectives. Cohen said their reactions were in response to signs of support from neighbors and a male detective's joke about running down a television cameraman.

Steve Aisenberg, who has remained publicly stoic through the ordeal, maintained his composure Tuesday as he calmly asked for Sabrina's return.

"When your 4-year-old little daughter comes up to you and tells you that her heart is breaking, how do you comfort her?" Aisenberg said, as his wife, sobbing but dry-eyed, shook uncontrollably beside him. "When your 8-year-old son asks when is the next time he can see his little sister smile at him as she crawls toward him, what do you say? When your loving wife wonders aloud how can this happen to us, how do you give her the strength and the hope for the future?"

They think whoever took Sabrina remains in the Tampa Bay area and will see this plea, Cohen said. He said they can't support that theory with facts but consider it most probable because the couple has no enemies, debts or ransom note.

"So many women came in contact with this baby as a result of Marlene's work," Cohen said, refering to the Playtime Pals preschool classes she runs in a converted private home near Brandon High School. "Someone saw this baby, and someone took this baby because they wanted this baby."

The appearance before the local media was only the couple's second since Sabrina vanished and the first in which the Aisenbergs spoke. They also released a videotape the night the search began, in which Mrs. Aisenberg tearfully pleaded for her baby's safe return. In another appearance at Cohen's office Nov. 26, the couple stayed silently on the sidelines as Cohen spoke on their behalf. Cohen said their silence has been his decision, made because "there's nothing else to say."

"I think people know and can see these people are in a great deal of pain," Cohen said. "I think they're doing as much as they can to find their daughter."

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