We had a little trouble finding the state capital building but managed to arrive on time. This is the second stop in a day of three rallys so we really were trying to be mindful of the time and keep on schedule.
The rally was held on the steps of the building, making many passers by stop and listen to what was going on. Always a good thing, hopefully they walked away with a clearer understanding of the missing person's world, and will remember and pay attention when they pass a flyer or hear a news story.
Jennifer Byers Hernandez' family was hosting the event. Jennifer was 31 when she was last seen in Modesta. She disappeared on 8-24-08 along with her son, Gerardo Barajas Jr (Junior) who was 5 at the time. Although there are not many details available in their case, there are suspicions. Jennifer's family believes that Junior may have been taken to Mexico. I had a talk with her mom who questioned me about what it was like to know Mathew is deceased. She had that familiar look in her eyes as she asked if it was better...
When we first arrived (finally, after almost losing Lisa on the side of the road), there weren't many people there or much going on, but I've become used to these types of beginnings. When the tour first started I would be anxious for the family. Waiting for more arrivals, for the media, wanting them to have a good turnout. Now I know it will happen. Slowly, people will arrive and it will all come together. Most of the time the press arrives late, often as we are preparing to leave. This tends to put us behind, but willing to do whatever is necessary to facilitate them in whatever they need to get the family's story out. I wonder if we need to reiterate that these stops are for only one hour. I wonder if people, and the press see the starting time and do not realize how quickly everything happens.
When we started setting up Jennifer's family had not yet arrived, so we were first greeted by Shelli Madrid. She had hosted a stop for Kathy the week before in Mendocino. Kathy had gone missing in Mendocino, and Shelli had traveled there to host that rally, but the family actually lives here, and so Jennifer's family had included them. I remember this happening on last year's tour. Family members and friends who did not live near their rally stop would show up at another stop closer to where they lived. This is an important aspect of going on tour, I think. They don't have to miss the entire experience because they are unable to travel. They can attend another rally, see their loved one on the banner, honor their person and be involved. After all, every rally, no matter where or whose family hosts, is really for all missing persons and their loved ones.
Jennifer's mother, brother and niece arrived and began their set up. Jennifer's sister has organized this stop and I believe she has been the one in charge since Jennifer went missing 4 years ago. This is something we have talked about many times. Usually when someone goes missing it is a parent or spouse that runs things. If they are unable, it becomes the responsibility of the siblings. In those long standing cases, it often ends up eventually falling to the children or the next generation. Sometimes they were young when the person initially went missing and grew up in this life, sometimes they have been groomed to continue to carry the torch, to not forget, to always seek resolution.
I was sorry not to meet Jennifer's sister, sorry that she was unable to attend, and to see how all her hard work payed off. Her daughter Katelynn filled in for her, the baton being momentarily passed. As we listened, this young adult so versed in her aunt's case began by stating the statistics. Those horribly large, unfathomable numbers of the amount of people who are missing, and who go missing every year. She spoke some about her aunt's case, and the family's problems with getting media attention, getting the police to become more involved. Basically the overall lack of help. She ended with a moving poem that I hadn't heard before called I'm keeping the light on.
Kathy's sister, Anise, told us how Kathy had done everything in her power to provide her a good and stable life. She told stories about her sister and then her it was her uncle's turn. He began by telling us that he was wearing a shirt that Kathy had given him. He said "I have good news and bad news. The good news is that Kathy is in heaven and the bad news is that the people responsible are not in hell". His emotions were all over the place. His voice would rise in anger and lower when he spoke of his niece. The visible tug of war we witnessed was one all of us in the missing person community have experienced, I would go so far as to say that we all still do.
There was music at this rally that a local teenage boy provided. When his father got up to speak I thought it was to solicit work. Instead, it was a moving account of how they ended up here on this day. Of how they were invited to participate while playing a fair nearby. Of how they have never met families of the missing before. Of how he could not even grasp how these families must feel. Of how he would feel if his son went missing. Of how their lives are forever changed by what they witnessed today.