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Time can't heal such cutting wounds

As parents, we inevitably replay the scenarios we fear most: Our child is injured in a car accident or contracts a serious illness. Our nightmare has them victimized, abducted, killed.

We know that awful split-second panic that sets in when we suddenly realize we've lost sight of our young child in Wal-Mart. We fiercely try to protect them from harm. But sometimes we are powerless.

Renee and Clark Converse have been living that bad dream for far too long. There is nothing they could have done to prevent someone from hurting their 12-year-old daughter, Jennifer Odom, in the most unspeakable way.

They were an unremarkable family living quiet lives. A mother, stepfather and two daughters, Jennifer and Jessica, and a dog named Gypsie.

They were a good family, a fun family. You saw that in the water skiing and softball pictures. You saw the frolicking on the video. You can't get past the smiles, Jennifer's smiles.

After 13 years, we still don't know who killed Jennifer. We don't know why.

It happened on a February afternoon when the orange groves were laden with fruit and kids throughout east Pasco were excited about the annual Pasco County Fair.

Jennifer, a student at Weightman Middle, stepped off her school bus in front of

her home near San Antonio and disappeared. Volunteers swarmed the pastoral hillsides. Her body was found a week later in the Spring Lake area of Hernando County.

So much time has passed. Jennifer has now been gone longer than she lived. And yet the pain is still so fresh for her parents, who cried this week as they gathered with detectives to plead for new information.

Isn't there somebody out there who can help break this case?

You might ask why, with all the other unsolved cases out there, this one rates so much fresh attention. Why does the Jennifer Odom mystery deserve its own press conference with television cameras arrayed to capture every word and image?

The truth is, this case has never cooled. The pain has never really lifted. It has consistently generated tips to investigators, because so many people still care. Sadly the tips have yet to produce answers.

Hernando Detective Mike Nelson is in charge of cold cases. He's a veteran with a long memory. He never takes the anonymous tipster for granted. If you know something, call him.

Maybe you heard Renee and Clark Converse try to answer difficult questions on TV the other day. You had to ache for them.

This Saturday marks exactly 13 years to the day their daughter's body was found. In that time, they have endured similar reports, other parents' nightmares. So often, the new tragedy sparked references to Jennifer.

Today marks another sad anniversary: the slaying of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford in Homosassa. In these 13 years, there have been so many others. Who would hurt such innocent children.

Who?

In Jessica's case, authorities at least believe they have their man. Renee and Clark Converse can only hope for such.

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at (813) 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is askerritt@sppimes.com.

TO HELP

If you can help, please call 1-888-785-8308 or visit www.hernando

sheriff.org/jennifer.

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