PHENIX CITY, Ala. (AP)  Russell County Sheriff Tommy Boswell called it a wonderful Christmas present. Monday morning Dana Holloway showed up at Boswell's Phenix City office to thank the sheriff for a job well done 20 years ago.

Holloway, now 20, was kidnapped two decades ago from her Fort Mitchell home. She was found unharmed two weeks later in an Orlando-area motel room with an Iranian short-order cook.

"I see her sitting here and I get emotional," Boswell said Monday.

The reunion was arranged by one of Boswell's friends, Jim Welburn, president of American Truck Driving Academy in Opelika.

Holloway was at Welburn's office when she noticed a campaign sign for Boswell's successor, Heath Taylor. She asked Welburn if he knew Boswell.

When he said he knew the sheriff well, Holloway began to tell of her kidnapping by a woman who had been baby-sitting her at the time.

"He saved my life," Holloway said of the sheriff, who is retiring next month after 21 years in office.

"I asked her if she would like to meet the sheriff," Welburn said.

Welburn called Boswell late last week to set things up.

Boswell's first response: "I didn't remember saving anybody's life."

It didn't take Boswell long to remember the case, which garnered national attention.

The day after Christmas 1990, Sheena Holloway reported 6-month-old Dana missing. She had left the child with a friend, Patricia Shaw, in their Fort Mitchell trailer park and when she returned, Shaw was gone and so were Dana and five cans of baby formula.

It didn't take long for the FBI to get involved.

Authorities eventually located and arrested Shaw at her mother's Phenix City apartment. But little Dana wasn't with her.

Russell County deputy Steve O'Steen, the lead investigator at the time, was in the room Monday when Holloway and Boswell met.

He and FBI Agent Gordon Hurley, who still works out of the Columbus office, had questioned Shaw that day, and she gave them Dana's location.

FBI agents quickly found the child in Orlando with Shaw's husband, Akbar Salemi, an Iranian citizen who had been in the U.S. for 13 years.

At the time she was found, law enforcement had reason to believe that the couple was preparing to sell the child, possibly to someone outside the country.

Shaw pleaded guilty and received a five-year prison sentence and five years on probation. Salemi went to trial, was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison, but the government successfully appealed and nearly doubled his sentence.

"That may be the most important interview I have ever done," O'Steen said.

Monday morning, the sheriff and Holloway watched old television news footage of the kidnapping and rescue.

Included was an "Inside Edition" report with anchorman Bill O'Reilly, now a FOX news personality.

"It's a story every parent should watch," a much younger O'Reilly said on the tape.

Holloway had never seen the footage before, but she knows well the story of her kidnapping. Her mother has told her about it on many occasions, the first time when she was about 10.

"Sometimes my friends would be able to do things that I wouldn't because my mother was cautious," Holloway said. "It would come up — this was the reason she would not let me do it."

Holloway, who grew up in Marion County, has also read newspaper accounts of the ordeal.

With the young woman sitting in front of him Monday, Boswell couldn't help but play the "what if" game.

"I wonder what would have happened if we did not find her," the sheriff said. "Where would she have gone? What would she have done?"

Welburn, sitting next to the sheriff across from Holloway, quickly answered the questions.

"There are way too many 'what ifs,'" he said.

Holloway was quiet for most of the meeting before looking the sheriff in the eye and saying two words.

"Thank you."

 

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