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13-year-old Milly Dowler was abducted and murdered in 2002. This is her story.
Her name was Amanda, but everyone called her Milly. At 4.05pm on Thursday 21st March 2002 she waved goodbye to her school friends and set off for home.
Less than 15 minutes later, she had disappeared.
A normal day
Like most people from her area, Milly got a train to and from school. That day the train had pulled into Walton-on-Thames station as usual, the quiet platform suddenly flooding with pupils in their dark navy uniforms.
Chattering and laughing, pleased to have put another day of school behind them, the Heathside school pupils milled about in groups, finishing off their conversations before splitting off and heading for home.
Among the crowds of teens was 13-year-old Milly Dowler.
“Milly and her mates dawdled”
Last known movements
It was one of those afternoons where you don't want to go straight home, an afternoon for hanging around with friends. That Thursday Milly and her mates dawdled.
They decided to visit the station café. But Milly knew she was expected home. At 3.47 she borrowed a mate's phone to call her dad. She told him she'd be back in half an hour.
The friends finally went their separate ways 18 minutes later, and Milly set off up Station Road on the short journey home.
She never arrived.
At first it seemed like she had vanished off the face of the planet.
At 4.08 a school friend waiting for a bus saw Milly walking along Station Road in the direction of her house, but a CCTV camera further along the same road failed to pick her up.
Somewhere between her friend at the bus-stop and the CCTV camera, Milly had disappeared.
Her parents immediately knew something was wrong. Milly wouldn't just run off without telling them, would she? The police thought she might have gone off with someone she knew, a secret boyfriend maybe. Could Milly have run away?
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Two days after her disappearance, two days without a phone call or text, her mum, Sally Dowler, and dad, Robert, made an emotional plea on the TV, asking Milly to just come home.
“The police combed the area”
Milly's sister, Gemma, was too upset to take part in these TV appeals. She and Milly were so close, and the pain of missing her must have been terrible. She decided to write an open letter asking for her sister's safe return instead.
The police started a massive man hunt, combing the area for any tiny clue as to what had happened to Milly.
Suddenly she was everywhere, apart from safe at home. Her family released video footage of her, hoping it would jog people's memories. Images of a bright, smiling girl who played the saxophone were seen on TV screens across the country.
A body is found
Crimewatch showed a reconstruction of Milly's last journey from the station, prompting hundreds of calls from people with new information about the case.
Pictures of Milly were circulated on the internet, at football matches, and one newspaper offered a £100,000 reward for news of where she was. Will Young appealed for information before one of his gigs. Milly had been a huge Pop Idol fan and had been to a Pop Idol concert the Tuesday night before her disappearance.
On 23rd April it seemed like the Dowler's worst fears were to be confirmed. A body of a woman was found in the Thames, just two miles from where Milly went missing.
An agonising wait followed as police tried to identify the body. The next day they confirmed that it wasn't Milly. Some relief for her mum and dad, perhaps, but still no Milly. Where was she?
Behind the scenes, the police were interviewing suspects. Two men were taken in for questioning and then released. The investigation even went to London where Metropolitan police officers thought the case might be linked to that of two women missing in the west of the capital.
“Her parents were still texting her”
Film of the moment she was taken?
25th June 2002 would have been Milly's 14th birthday. Her parents were still sending texts to her phone at this time. Hoping that one day a reply would come.
The only real clue as to what had happened to Milly was the blurry CCTV footage from Station Road at the time of her disappearance. The film was sent to the US for examination by the FBI. They identified a faint, blurred figure of a person in a dark outfit, possibly a navy school uniform, like Milly's.
The figure seemed to be approaching a dark vehicle. Could this be film of the moment she was taken? The police seemed to think so and suggested that Milly had been the victim of a "chance abduction".
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As it turned out, the dark car belonged to a local woman who was picking her son up from the station. She had indeed asked a passer-by for directions, but hadn't seen Milly.
Despite this disappointing new information, the general feeling now was that Milly had, at some point, got into a car. Whether this was voluntarily or by force was not at all clear.
Just over a week after the FBI reached their conclusions about the CCTV footage, police were called to Minley Woods in Hampshire. Some human remains had been found.
It was 20th September, the eve of the six month anniversary of Milly's disappearance, and, for the first time, her parents were quoted as saying that they now believed that their daughter was dead.
At 5pm that day the police formally identified Milly, using dental records. She had been murdered. Her clothes, purse, rucksack and mobile phone were all missing. They are still missing.
As yet no one has been charged with Milly's murder.
So much is uncertain about the case, but the Dowlers just can't believe that she would have calmly got in a car with someone that she didn't know. And, with no reports of a struggle in the area in which she disappeared, that's what's believed to have happened.
The Dowlers started Milly's Fund in October 2002 to raise awareness about personal safety among young people. People like you. You might have heard about their Teach UR Mum to Txt campaign. The work of the fund is now carried out by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.
“It could have been you”
It's horrible to think of, but what happened to Milly could have happened to anyone. It could have happened to you. She didn't do anything particularly wrong, up until the moment when she may have got in that car.
We all need to take responsibility for our personal safety, so:
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