Sara Anne Wood's loved ones and others who came to care about her do not speak aloud the name of the man who killed her.

"He’s had too much publicity," some say.

"He's every parent’s worst nightmare," another person says.

Sara was last seen Aug. 18, 1993. She was 12 years old. This week marks 25 years since her disappearance along Hacadam Road in Litchfield, close to her home.

Sara would’ve been 37 years old now. Her remains never have been found.

Lewis S. Lent, Jr. confessed to her kidnapping and murder. He never will be released from a Massachusetts prison where he is serving a sentence for the killing of one Massachusetts boy, pleaded guilty to the attempted kidnapping of another, and continues to not divulge the location of Sara’s remains.

But as the occasion of her disappearance is marked in remembrance, many look to the strides made since her disappearance. "Sara's case" motivated law enforcement, parents and educators in this region to increase vigilance and constantly evaluate how to keep children safe in an ever-changing world of challenges.

For many, Sara is alive in spirit.

Sara’s 42-year-old brother Dusty Wood reflected on her disappearance and society and the informational challenges of 1993.

"At the time, you would hear ghost stories about missing kids. People maybe weren’t as aware of at-risk children," he said. "You would see a picture of a missing kid on a milk carton … but the publishing time is too long. So, they don’t do that anymore."

In the case of his sister, he remembers his family, including dad Robert and mom Frances, hitting the ground running trying to get the word out.

"We went bonkers with Xeroxes,” he said. “Like, that day … it was pretty obvious she was missing. We quickly moved into trying to find her."

Sara inspired Ride for Missing Children

Over the years, Dusty Wood has ridden in about half a dozen Rides for Missing Children, the bicycle trek hosted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's Mohawk Valley office that began in Sara’s honor.

"Now, I am about the same age my dad was when (Sara) went missing," he said. "... So, I have been getting more involved."

When Dusty Wood was about 18 in 1995, he joined a small group of seven law enforcement officials and volunteers, who had helped search for his sister, on a 500-plus-mile bicycle ride to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about missing children.

That endeavor later became the seed for the local Ride for Missing Children. Over the years, the ride has grown, and now every year about 500 make a 90-mile journey through the Mohawk Valley. Further, there are four sister rides across New York state: Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo and Albany.

One of the original seven riding to Washington, D.C., was Dick Jordan, who volunteers every year to help organize the awareness ride.

Jordan, who knew some of the state police officers responding to Sara's disappearance, wanted to lend a hand and first met her father, Robert Wood, about two days after she went missing.

"A lot of us were involved. ... I grew up in Sauquoit. I knew all the back roads and caves. I wanted to contribute," Jordan remembers. "Circumstances in the community can cause things to happen. It changed our community. ... The hurt never goes away. Every day we say a prayer Sara will be found."

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Through volunteering to help find Sara, Jordan met with others who wanted to do more — such as Jim Simpson.

"Sara was a wake-up call. It was an eye-opener," said Simpson, a retired state trooper who was the public information officer at the time of her disappearance and later one of the original organizers of the Ride for Missing Children. "There have always been predators out there. It’s not a new phenomenon. Our whole consciousness about safety has changed. That’s not a bad thing."

‘Awareness is out there’

For Simpson and others, there is a small light at points in this 25-year-old nightmare.

"What has blossomed from (Sara's case) is that awareness is out there," said Wendy Fical, program director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Utica. "As times change we can continue to keep our children safe."

Fical has been at the center for eight years, and in that time she said she has seen ever-climbing support for schools asking for safety resources and education for students.

"Stranger-danger" defense practices are in hyper-drive, Fical said.

But Simpson and Fical lament that despite teaching kids to stay safe, there always are new evils.

In the time that has passed since Sara’s disappearance, new avenues for predators have emerged via the internet. Also, mass shootings have escalated in schools and elsewhere.

Fical explained that of all the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children offices across the country, the Mohawk Valley office has a special task.

The center is solely responsible for the preparation and distribution of posters. Last year alone, the office mailed 542,744 posters resulting in the recovery of 399 children, according to information from the center.

New ways, tools to alert public

Fical said child-locating supports have grown over the last 20 years to include social networking, phone apps and real-time systems such as Amber Alert, all soliciting tips from the public.

"Today, (Sara's case) definitely would have been given out as an Amber Alert," state police Senior Investigator Reece Treen said. "The sooner the info gets out there, the better the chance we have of finding them."

Treen, whose department handles abduction cases at the Troop D barracks in Oneida, said since Sara's disappearance there also are more law enforcement tools, such as patrol vehicle-mounted license plate readers that can cruise lines of highway traffic at higher speeds.

Despite the technological challenges of 1993, "we had so much information back then. People wanted to help,” Treen said. “We still get a lot of tips."

"It was one of the biggest cases in Central New York history. ... It changed the way people thought completely," he added.

The state police now have a child exploitation task force tackling online predators and trafficking.

And, there are surveillance cameras everywhere.

"It wasn't really an option in 1993," Treen said, adding DNA technology has made strides, as less biologic material is needed to generate a DNA profile.

School methods changed, too

Sara was attending Sauquoit schools when she disappeared. A lot has changed for educators since then.

"We had to start teaching different things, safety awareness stuff," said Nancy Troast Waldeck, who was Sara's sixth-grade teacher. "I focused on it a lot, any chance I could get without going overboard and without ignoring what I needed to be teaching the kids."

"No one was ignoring it or pushing it under the rug. It hit everybody. We had to find that fine line between not scaring the kids, but letting them know that yes, this is serious. I sometimes think back and wonder what would have happened if it hadn't happened. Would we have been smart enough to make these changes?"

Sauquoit Valley Central School District Superintendent Ronald Wheelock was a teacher in Watertown when he heard of Sara's disappearance.

"I certainly do feel there has been and needs to continue to be more of that awareness of your community, parents working with their children, educators working with the students as far as looking out for your own personal safety."

Speaking of awareness events such as the Ride for Missing children, he said Sara has left a legacy.

"It's a torch that Sara Anne Wood unfortunately lit, but has led to many, many positive recoveries."

Contributing: O-D reporter Amy Neff Roth