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Mother of teenager missing in Aruba cautions others

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Beth Twitty did her homework before letting her daughter, Natalee Holloway, head to Aruba on her senior class trip: She went to planning meetings, and so did Holloway. They asked questions. They discussed underage drinking, chaperones, and traveling with buddies.

In spite of all of the precautions, Holloway vanished on May 30, the last night of her stay in Aruba.

Her unsolved disappearance became a cautionary tale for parents and the class of 2006, and Twitty hopes that teens will listen.

''I think if kids can take Natalee's story with them and realize that you're not always safe. . . . You are responsible for yourself," said Twitty in a telephone interview. ''I think Natalee can show us firsthand what can happen."

However, while Holloway's disappearance may have soured the senior trip experience for her friends in Mountain Brook, it has swayed few others.

Travel groups such as AAA Travel said a few travelers switched destinations in the weeks following Holloway's disappearance, but those fears subsided, even with a call by Alabama's governor for a boycott of Aruba.

This year, the most popular destinations outside the United States for senior trips are Caribbean islands and Mexico, according to the Michigan-based Student & Youth Travel Association. The most desired domestic sites are South Padre Island along the Texas coast; Panama City, Fla.; Virginia Beach, Va.; Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Daytona Beach, Fla.

Holloway, an 18-year-old honors student, was last seen leaving an Aruba bar with Dutch citizen Joran van der Sloot and Surinamese brothers Deepak and Satish Kalpoe. The young men were arrested in June but were released after a court ruled that there was not enough evidence to hold them.

As the new year approaches, Twitty has much to dwell on.

''When I think about Natalee being abducted in Aruba, I can't help but know if she had made a plan with friends to not leave that establishment alone, it would never put her in a situation where she was left defenseless against her perpetrators," Twitty said. ''But regardless, it should not cost our sons and daughters their lives."

One problem is that teens are fearless. ''It's such a difficult age," Twitty said. ''They're caught between a delicate balance of being under their parents' watchful eye and being totally independent."

Plus, the drinking age at many foreign destinations is 18 or younger -- and seldom enforced, youth travel advisories warn.

Twitty offers a few pointers for parents of other teens going overseas: Research your destination, know how to contact US officials, and get to know local laws and law enforcement. If she could change anything, she said, ''I would have done a little more homework."

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