2001-09-01 / Front Page

Natasha Smalls Comes Home

By Gary G. Toms

Natasha Smalls, the 20-year old Yale University student who mysteriously vanished while studying in South Africa, returned to this country last Sunday, August 26, amid a slew of reporters and controversy.

There is no clear indication of exactly what happened to the Fulbright scholarship recipient because she was kept in a separate room away from reporters and did not take part in the press conference, which was held at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Natasha was able to return home as result of the efforts of Congressman Gregory Meeks, State Department officials and a Yale African Studies professor, Saundra Sanneh. However, the Smalls family wasted no time blasting the State Department for what they claimed was a less than enthusiastic effort by the department to locate their daughter.

"The State Department was very unhelpful. I felt that if I was white they would have reached out more," stated Glory Smalls, mother of Natasha.

In response to the allegations, Michelle King, a State Department spokesperson, said that both the South African and Zimbabwean consulates cooperated in the search for Natasha Smalls.

"Of course, we’re very happy that she has returned safely," said King.

The Smalls family also made accusations against Yale University, claiming that they were very slow to act in obtaining information about their daughter’s whereabouts.

Tom Conroy, a Yale spokesman, stated that university officials found out from the media, on August 8, that Natasha Smalls was missing.

"We immediately contacted the State Department, knowing that the State Department would have the expertise to try and locate her in South Africa, and we cooperated with them from then on," said the spokesman.

When questioned about the circumstances surrounding her disappearance, Congressman Meeks was very vague about the situation.

"We know that she had been in a hospital somewhere, and we’re trying to find out exactly what took place. She was in fear for her life, and therefore she’s still reluctant to talk about certain things."

Natasha Smalls was studying at the University of Natal, in Durban, at the time of her disappearance. In a frantic telephone conversation with her mother, on July 26, the student claimed that she was being held in a mental facility and that she was being drugged.

A second call came two days later, and the father, Robert Smalls, claimed that his daughter sounded very tense. The call ended before he could obtain information on where she was being held.

The last phone call came on August 23, at approximately 7 a.m., and Natasha requested that her mother come to South Africa to bring her home.

"I’m just glad that my daughter is here," exclaimed the mother during the press conference. "People just don’t know what I have been going through for the last month. It’s been a living hell."

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