CONWAY — The group of friends and volunteers who led the nine-month social media search for Abigail Hernandez through the “Bring Abby Home” pages has transformed itself into a daily source of support for Abigail, now carrying the motto “Abby Strong.”
On Wednesday, the day after Hernandez, 15, stood just feet from her alleged kidnapper in a courtroom as Nathaniel Kibby, 34, of Gorham, was arraigned, the volunteers spoke in her place, fielding questions from the news media.
Their message was simple.
“No statement from Abby today,” said Paul Kirsch. “Please give her a bit of peace.”
Since Hernandez disappeared on Oct. 9, Kirsch and Amanda Smith, two friends of the Hernandez family, devoted most of their free time in to the website bringabbyhome.com, and to the volunteer Facebook pages dedicated to Abigail’s return.
The circumstances surrounding Abigail’s return home on July 20 are still being investigated, but it doesn’t appear that the web and social media work can be credited with actually bringing Abby home. But the tireless work of Kirsch, Smith and others on the web pages was hailed as critical to the search work by law enforcement investigators during the missing persons’ case.
The numbers tell the story: the Bring Abby Home Facebook page has more than 10,000 “likes;” each posts reach almost 200,000 participating Facebook users, and there are almost 30,000 people actively talking and sharing content from the page, Smith said.
Since Abigail has come home, many of the graphic posts on the Bring Abby Home Facebook page include the phrase, “Abby Strong.” In the final weeks of Abigail’s disappearance, while many postings doubted she’d return and questioned if she was alive, Abigail’s mother and the volunteers started sending messages to Abigail to be strong.
The phrase came from a hash tag, Smith said.
“#abbystrong was just something I started to add to posts instead of #bringabbyhome to show support and keep encouraging Abby to continue being strong,” she said.
Now, the web and social media pages are not needed to find Abigail. But they are needed to support her in the days ahead, as authorities try to bring her alleged kidnapper to justice, Smith said.
“We will keep the page up until it’s all over,” Smith said. “People have followed since Day 1 and will want updates. We have people helping us from all over the world.”