Regardless of the circumstances, it is terribly tragic when a child goes missing.

After taking a fifteen-minute walk around her apartment complex in the early morning hours of September 11, 2000, eight-year-old Zachary Bernhardt’s mother, Leah Hacket (now Leah Hanson) discovered that her son was missing from his bed. After searching the surrounding area, the police could find no trace of the little boy. Strangely, everything seemed to be in order: there were no signs of a break-in or disturbance anywhere in the house. It appeared that Zachary had simply vanished into thin air. Clearwater Police received thousands of leads, but none of them were useful.

Seven months after Zachary disappeared, investigators received tip 764: a man by the name of Kevin Jalbert claimed he had abducted more than 1,000 children and had murdered five. He further implicated himself when he drove an undercover officer to the Bernhardt’s apartment complex and claimed he had kidnapped a boy from there some time ago. However, following further investigation and a failed polygraph exam, authorities could not conclusively determine that Jalbert had anything to do with Zachary’s disappearance. Jalbert could not correctly recall the pajamas that Zach was wearing the night he disappeared. Jalbert also identified the incorrect apartment from which he claims he kidnapped the young boy.

Authorities then claimed that Zachary’s mother knew more than she was telling them. For one, they asked, why did she decide to go on a walk at four in the morning and leave the door to her apartment unlocked? Reporters also discovered that Hanson was facing eviction from her apartment and had a reputation for moving houses. After facing harsh public backlash, Leah Hanson decided to relocate to Hawaii. Today, Zachary’s grandmother, Carole Bernhardt, keeps her grandson’s memory alive with the A-Z Missing Children’s Outreach Center, a foundation she helped set up with another missing child’s parents.

Anyone with any information pertaining to Zachary Bernhardt’s case can contact the Clearwater Police Department at (727) 562-4420.

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