2001-08-25 / Front Page

"I Want My Baby Back Home!"

"I Want My Baby Back Home!"

An Exclusive Interview With The Father of Natasha Smalls

By Gary G. Toms

A 20-year old Far Rockaway woman has vanished without a trace after spending a year abroad attending the University of Natal, in Durban.

Natasha Smalls, African studies major at Yale University, and Fulbright scholarship recipient, was studying the Zulu language at the South African university during the spring semester. She was scheduled to return home on August 1 on a flight bound for John F. Kennedy International Airport. The plane reached its final destination, but Natasha was not on board.

Her parents, Robert and Glory Smalls, have serious concerns for their daughter’s safety after the mother received a frantic phone call from her on July 26. In that conversation Natasha stated she was being drugged and held in a mental hospital. She also said that she feared for her life.

"She was in tears. She said she was in Saint Port, Zimbabwe, but she didn’t give me the name of the hospital because we got cut off. She wouldn’t tell me exactly what was happening. She just said that she would explain everything when she got home," said the girl’s mother.

A second call was placed to the home again on July 28, and Natasha spoke with her father. He said that Natasha didn’t appear to be as frantic as she was when she spoke to her mother two days earlier, but she did sound very tense. As in the previous phone call, they were cut off before he could question her in greater detail.

In March, Glory Smalls traveled to South Africa to see her daughter after Natasha was brutally attacked. She tried to convince her to come home, but Natasha insisted on staying in South Africa.

Linda Lorimer, the secretary of Yale University, said the university is making an "aggressive effort" to locate the missing woman.

"We immediately, within 24 hours, pursued the matter at the upper levels of the State Department. We were relieved to find out that the State Department had already begun an active investigation and were being quite aggressive."

Lorimer also stated that Karyn Jones, an assistant director of Yale’s Office of International Education, would be making a special trip to the University of Natal as part of an already planned visit to South Africa.

During the course of the investigation, The WAVE was able to contact the girl’s father, Robert Smalls. In an effort to pursue as many avenues possible to find his daughter, he sat down with us for a one on one interview. Through this interview, he is hopeful that someone, somewhere, will be able to reach out and provide answers to his daughter’s whereabouts.

Wave: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us Mr. Smalls. How are you holding up, sir?

Smalls: "We’re making it by the good graces of God. It’s not easy, but our faith is holding the family together."

Wave: Could you please describe the phone call your wife received from Natasha?

Smalls: "My daughter was very frantic. We’re not sure what was happening over there, but something had her fearful. We never had time to find out what was going on because the conversation between her and my wife was cut off."

Wave: Did your daughter place any other calls after that one?

Smalls: "She called again on the 28th of July.

Wave: How did she sound then?

Smalls: "She was very tense. I tried to get as much information as possible, but again, the conversation was cut short."

Wave: There are reports that your daughter was brutally assaulted back in March, and that your wife actually went to South Africa to try and convince her to come home.

Smalls: That is correct.

Wave: Why did Natasha decide to stay after being attacked?

Smalls: "Natasha decided to stay there because she was very determined to complete her course of study. African studies was her thing, and she was determined to finish the semester."

Wave: Do you know why she was attacked and by whom?

Smalls: "I’m not sure why she was attacked. She was coming back from an event when she was attacked near her school. I won’t even begin to speculate on if there is any link between the attack and her disappearance. I just won’t do that at this time."

Wave: We understand that you have been working with the State Department to locate your daughter.

Smalls: "We are communicating with the State Department frequently, and we are still awaiting more information."

Wave: It has also been brought to our attention that Congressman Gregory Meeks has taken an active role in trying to locate your daughter. Is that true?

Smalls: "We have spoken with Congressman Meeks and his staff, and they are obtaining information for us."

Wave: This must be extremely difficult for you to deal with. How does your family cope with this from day to day?

Smalls: "This situation has been very hard on my entire family, but our faith in God is holding us together."

Wave: Have you and your wife considering going to South Africa to search for your daughter?

Smalls: "We would love to go to Africa to obtain answers, but we are not sure of what the outcome might be or how we would be received. Going there would mean we have to abide by their laws and customs. We would be restricted in a number of ways, and I would not want to do anything that might jeopardize the safety of my daughter."

Wave: Has Yale University been supportive in efforts to locate Natasha?

Smalls: "They were a little reluctant at first because there was a breakdown in our communication. However, they realized what the implications of this case could mean, and they established a line of communication. They are actively working with the State Department and my family to find her."

Wave: If the State Department, or other government officials, does not provide you with concrete information within a reasonable timeframe, would you consider reaching out to Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Colin Powell, Meeks and others to build a contingent of U.S. representatives and head to South Africa?

Smalls: "Yes. We would seriously consider using other avenues to get my daughter home if all else fails."

Wave: How often did you speak to your daughter before her disappearance?

Smalls: "We would call her regularly on her cell phone, and when we couldn’t reach her, we began to worry."

Wave: Have other media outlets approached you to discuss your daughter’s case?

Smalls: "They have, but I’m a very private person and not into doing a lot of interviews. However, I will do as many media outlets as possible is it will bring my baby home. Being in the media keeps the pressure on the people in power to do something, and it keeps the spotlight on my missing daughter."

Wave: Let’s backtrack a bit. Is there anything that specifically stands out in your memory regarding the July 26 conversation between your wife and Natasha?

Smalls: "Yes. She told my wife that she was coming home to expose what had happened to her in South Africa, but she never specified what that was. She also asked a social worker at the hospital to contact the State Department because she wanted this "thing" to be in the news."

Wave: How long do you think you will be able to wait for answers to your daughter’s whereabouts?

Smalls: "I can’t answer that. I’m on God’s timetable. When I’m meant to have the answers, he will provide them to me. My objective is to get Tasha home. I will work with the State Department and anyone else, but it should not take four months, or even 4 weeks, before I find out where my daughter is."

Wave: You are a man that is truly driven by faith at this point, aren’t you?

Smalls: "Yes. This situation could be happening because God is trying to expose what is going on in South Africa, and he may be using my daughter simply as a tool."

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