Sunday, September 30, 2012

Another Look at Olympia

It has been a long but good day and we head to our third and final stop in Olympia Washington put together by the family of Lindsay Baum. Each stop on the tour is different and has it's own uniqueness about it, and each stop always has me reflecting on the person or persons this event is about. That reflection time for me is always filled with prayer and the hope that these family and friends will get resolution, the answers they need and are able to bring home their missing loved one. They are moments that literally make me stop and take in all that is before me, they are moments that remind me of why I am on this tour and all that means to me.

The sun was setting over a beautiful lake and the candles were lit brightly around it's perimeter. The tables were set up with many posters and flyers of those missing and many family and friends turned up for support. As I walked around taking pictures I listened as so many families spoke to others about their missing person and the circumstances, most if not all through tears. I know the statistics and I have met so many families who have a missing person, yet it still just blows my mind when I see it in this very "real" way. It's heartbreaking and once again I am reminded that each of us has a role in this, that there is something we can do!

Before the balloon release we gather in a circle in front of the lake and Lindsay's mom invites all the other families there to share their stories. One family after another comes forward and shares their hearts, personal, informal and oh so real. Families reaching out and supporting other families, becoming families themselves because of this tragic bond that has brought them together.

 I notice that many passing through the park stop to listen and hear what is going on. I am sure that if they really listened they are walking away changed, and with a new awareness. I hope that the next time these people see a flyer or poster of a missing person that they won't just blow by it or not look at all. I hope they will take the time to read it and hopefully share it. Maybe some will come away so moved that they will offer their help in any way they can to a family or an Organization like CUE who always needs good volunteers.

It is never easy listening to those speak who have a missing loved one and it always impacts me. Tonight in particular I was struck by how young so many of those missing are and I am thinking of my own children at home, how could I not. I am struck as well by a young girl, the daughter of 21 year old Alyssa Mclemore who is missing. Alyssa's sister is speaking and all I see is her daughter, who is growing up without her mother. I see my sister Allison's daughters, for me it becomes a complete circle.

As we join in a large circle to release the balloons a prayer is said and manycall out the nameof their missing loved one.  As we watch the balloons head up into the night, I know what I am thinking and I wonder what those around me are, I am sure most of our thoughts are the same. I say another prayer.

We prepare to leave and head on to the next stop tomorrow. I know a million emotions and feelings are going through these families right now and all who attend this event. As we hug goodbye that same sense of hope and love sweeps over me as it has before and I know that these efforts and nights like tonight are never in vain. I am blessed to be here tonight and to "just be" with these families who endure so much, I leave this stop once again a little different.
Lisa Valentino

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Burlington, Washington

The rally stop for Patti Krieger was held outside of a Tire store, with friends and family lined up along the road holding up signs and posters for passing motorists to see. I've participated in events like this, when we hold our "Cars Held Hostage" campaign protests, but I don't recall seeing it used on the tour  before. As we pull into the lot the first sign I encounter boldly states in capital letters "STILL MISSING".

Patti was 65 years old when she vanished from Sauk Mountain on 10-2-10. An inexperienced hiker, she was there with 5 other people and her dog to scatter the ashes of her then boyfriend's deceased parents. The individuals on the mountain with her state that she became emotional after the ceremony and wondered off alone with her Rottweiler. The group believed that the trail she had taken would reconnect with the trail that they were on but Patti was never seen again. All her personal effects were with the group and it is unclear if she had any personal belongings in her possession went she disappeared. Search and rescue teams were immediately dispatched but no clues to Patti's whereabouts were ever found. About a month later her underweight and malnourished dog was found near the mountain.

Before embarking on the tour, I start a notebook, and research all the missing and the circumstances of their disappearance. It only gives me a small snapshot of the person but it's just supposed to be a starting point. At rally's, I enjoy talking to the families and learning all about their missing loved one. Sometimes it's stories of their lives and what kind of person they are, other times it's stories about their disappearance. On one side I know from first hand experience that families have knowledge, that they know their missing person the best, and that their thoughts and opinions should be taken seriously. I've also seen the other side, though, when someone close looks guilty for a variety of reasons and then it turns out they had nothing to do with it..I understand this family's reasoning, and hope that they can get resolution. Patti's son, Alan Patterson, has been upfront in his opinions and in  expressing his desire for answers. Her brother and sister have also been vocal with their frustrations. It's been close to 2 years, they want peace, they want clues, they want Patti...

Ruth Sine was also at this rally stop, her son Bobby went missing 2-6-12. He is 18 years old...  Another of those cases closest to my heart, another fresh case, another mother in the early stages of the missing. Bobby was last seen near the riverfront and boardwalk by the Skagit River in Mount Vernon. Ruth commented that you can never understand or "Get it", until it happens to you... about passing his empty bedroom night after night..Her grief reaches into my soul...

Friday, September 28, 2012

Rally Stop Vancouver, Washington

When pulling up to the high school Jamie once attended just before she disappeared I felt a sadness, reminded of a young girl who never got the chance to graduate, a young girl who never had a life past her teen years. There, her sister and friends waiting for someone to reach out and care. You think back to so many years she has been gone, some may even ask why would anyone continue their search for a missing loved one all the years later? Well, fortunately anyone who wants to ask that question, does not get that right too, because only then would it be obvious they have not lost anyone in that manner.

We looked at old pictures, and viewed a few items found on a crime scene years ago when a recovery took place of two teen bodies in the mountain woods, some of Jamie's personal items were in the collection; but they never found her. I wonder, hell not wonder but question very hard on that matter, did they search hard enough, long enough? She has to still be out there, my plan is to get a renewed search for this case, I am convinced she is still there and maybe even more may be there. Many cases around the country, never enough resources to aid them all, so this takes time.

I am reminded of all the years families of the missing endure waiting! Days that drag on and on, while the world is busy zooming by with barely a care or notice of anything wrong, a world not affected by a missing person. It is hard to get most people really involved in a missing person case, now a days if a new case comes up people want to share the story, blog their opinions, make a poster.....but down here on the ground floor where I am daily, help? Not so much, other than those who search with us, the unnoticed dedication of trained volunteers.

A wonderful lady shows up carrying flowers of bright color, it reminds me of back in the day colors, when I think things were a little more least for me anyway. We took the pedals from those flowers and in a ceremony sprinkled them all around the sign of the school, we signed a guest book while her sister shared stories and walked down memory lane for some time. I recall thinking the love between sisters is really unmeasurable in most families and I was proud Jamie had a sister like that, still fighting the fight for her, loving her with no time lapse.

When I see families like this with years of living in the unknown for so long I know the world problems that arise are just not that important today. I am reminded of myself as a teen, and the darkness of the reality... this could have been me. I leave with a humble heart.

Monica Caison

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Olympia, Washington

Nighttime rally stops tend to take my breathe away, and tonight is no different. We arrive at a park next to a lake just as the sun begins to set. There are an uncountable amount of lit candles everywhere, all along the perimeter of the lake, and on all the tables; so many tables, and they are all loaded with missing person posters, flyers, buttons, and giveaways. As I begin to carry our things and set up our table I am already anxious, anticipating a highly charged  vigil... Most of the missing person's being honored tonight are children; young children, teens, and young adults. The group gathered includes many children, schoolmates of the missing, siblings of the missing, children of the missing, and of course parents and relatives of the missing. Often it takes events like these to remember all the children that are left behind when someone goes missing. We may hear they had children or young siblings, but often we only see the adults who take the family representative role in speaking out.  

Tonight's rally was organized by the family of Lindsey Baum. She was 10 years old when she went missing from the small town of McCleary on 6-29-09. She was walking home from a friend's home, a route she knew well and walked often. A short walk down a densely populated suburban street. On this evening, however, she never arrived home. I meet many members of her family, and some of her friends. 12 or 13 year old children who have experienced a  tragic occurrence that many adults cannot even fathom. What must they think? How can they comprehend a friend their age vanishing? Do they cling to their parents? Do they worry about disappearing themselves?

Lindsey's mother speaks first and then encourages the other families to share their stories. We hear from the family of Teekah Lewis. Teekah was only 2 years old when she disappeared from Tacoma on 1-23-99. A shy toddler who was frightened of strangers, Teekah was abducted from a local bowling alley where she had been on a normal family outing. I glance down at Teekah's flyer, it shows her age progression to 14 years. I cannot even imagine how this family feels, and I was a mother of a missing child. The family of Alyssa McLemore share the story of a 21 year old young woman who went missing from Kent on 4-9-09. Alyssa lived with her grandmother and dying mother. She had called to say she was on her way home, she never made it. Her mother passed away 3 days later. One day after her disappearance a 911 call was placed from her cell phone. The female caller asked for help and then the line went dead. The authorities were unable to get a location of the caller, although they do believe it originated in the Kent area. Alyssa had a  3 year old daughter at the time , I meet this now 6 year old beautiful child, along with Alyssa's sister, who told me Alyssa  never would have left her daughter. Danica Childs vanished on 12-21-07, also from the Kent area. She was 17 years old at the time of her disappearance and left her cell phone, purse, and coat never to be seen again. Another family's pain readily on display. Christopher Virdell went missing on 2-19-12. He is 18 years old and was last seen leaving a friends house to catch a bus to work. I had met his mother when I first arrived, immediately identifying the raw emotion of someone to whom this is all so new. Fresh to the missing person's world, unsure of so many things. It breaks my heart to know that she may become more like the rest of us, comfortable in this type of setting. Of course I gravitated right to her, as I always do to mom's of missing teenaged boys...

After the balloon release we steered the families to our banner so that they could all sign it. This is the first time since I've been on the tour that we have done this. At previous stops we directed the family members to sign along the edges in the border area. However, this was a large group so we just started handing out markers. In the dark, we just let them at the banner without any direction. As we watched most found the faces of their missing loved one and wrote heart-wrenching pleas and love yous....
Elisa Stirling

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Another Look at Bellingham

Over the past six years since Allison went missing and was then recovered many have come into my life who have become like family, many whom I feel a special bond with; Kara Roberts is one of those people. Perhaps it is because she was one of the first people I spent time with on this journey who had a missing person. I recall meeting Kara for the first time as she came to help and support me at a press conference for Allison in Raleigh NC.  Maybe it's all that and the fact that she too had a younger sister missing and became the voice for Leah as I did for Allison. Whatever it is I feel honored to be here today at this rally stop and press conference, honored to come to Washington state and hear Leah's story again, actually seeing where it all took place and seeing the roots of this Road Tour that helps so many in Leah's name.

We travel with the detective on Leah's case to have a look at Leah's vehicle, which was difficult and then we leave him and travel up to the mountain where the vehicle was found. Twelve years later the search for answers and resolution continues. Kara's journey and search for answers has been much longer than mine was. I know that the not knowing, the living in limbo is the hardest part. As the detective on her case said this morning; "It is chronic sorrow." and that is the part that so many do not  
understand, you live with it everyday and it is a part of who you are. Your life is forever different and you find a way to live differently.

As we sit in the sheriff's office prior to the press conference outside the Whatcom County Court House meeting with law enforcement I replay a similar scene in my own mind with me where Kara sits and all the law enforcement on Allison's case. Kara  is here again asking questions and making sure she understands all that there is on Leah's case and discussing in detail all that is going on. She gives more information to her law enforcement team on who Leah is. It is extremely difficult living in another state from where your loved one went missing especially one so far away. Today is almost like reliving it all over again from the beginning, it's always right there and fresh and Kara knows this needs to be done.

We head out to the press conference and again all these years later it must seem so surreal, like  you are living in some bad movie or having a bad dream. No one should have to live not knowing where their loved one is, yet the reality is far too many do.

As I listen to Kara speak I am moved as I always am when families share their hearts. More than that I am impressed, impressed by her dedication and resolve to see all of this through until there is resolution, impressed because through Leah and her story so many others are being helped and getting much needed attention. I get the sense that Kara feels the way I and so many other families of the missing do; if Leah's case and story and Kara's journey helps someone else who walks in these shoes, then there is grace in that.

Kara is so thankful to CUE and all of us for being here, but the thanks really belong to her, it is her hardwork and dedication and commitment that has brought all of us here today. I feel  blessed to know her and I know that wherever Leah is she too feels that unending love and determination of a sister who will never give up and who leaves this world a better place by who she is and what she does in Leah's name for others on the same path. 

We get in the van to begin the long drive to the next stop and I say a prayer for Leah and Kara, my heart is full.
Lisa Valentino 

Another Look at Vancouver

On to the next stop, Vancouver Washington. We arrive and are met by Starr Lara, Jamie Grissim's sister. You can feel in her hug how grateful she is that we are here. Once again that experience of someone else cares and I am not alone in this.

Looking at old photographs and mementos and holding this rally stop at the high school Jamie went to many thoughts begin running through my head. All of the whys and what if's and how comes. You begin to think about all the times you never got to have with your loved one and all the memories that never got made. Starr and Jamie had a difficult life to start with and then suddenly your sister is gone and you are left to go at it alone. You can see and feel that Starr lives with the pain of not having her sister Jamie daily. We talk a bit about this and she tells me; "I think about Jamie every day." Even forty one years later.

These feelings and emotions are not just something that dissipate and go away over the years. These are real people and real lives we are talking about and there is no "neat"way to tie everything all up and make it better or OK. We don't forget because we can't and we shouldn't. The statement; "Every missing person is someone's loved one" never rang truer and everyone who has been a part of this Road Tour definitely feels that and knows it to be true.

We all take some flower petals of many different colors and head over to the high school sign to let the wind take them and to share some thoughts and prayer. It is a beautiful sight and a nice way to remember Jamie.

As we pack to leave there is always a sense of needing more time or not wanting this time to end.  Every journey is always easier when you have support and know that you do not travel alone. Even though it is time for us to go, we are not gone. We, CUE is always here and I leave knowing these families get that.
Lisa Valentino

Rally Stop Salem, Oregon

Today is the honoree stop, we keep in tradition of the tour, Kerry Johnson. We chose her this year because her case has never received any press or attention to speak of and it went cold pretty fast. That is what the tour is about, a renewed hope, but more importantly to highlight those who have not been recognized by the media or have fallen from the headline at any level. I call cases like this one "the Lifer's" because they have been handed a life sentence of punishment, but have not committed a crime. I started another blog a few months ago just for that purpose and have personally written many cases to be included over the last seven years we have. It becomes so over whelming that it has been hard to start entering the many cases.

It was nice to have Michelle as a state director at this stop, she worked very hard on every detail to make the event special and it showed. Family members came in from various areas and some a great distance, it makes you think back to all the years her loved ones have gone without case movement and dangling in an unknown state of their loved ones whereabouts. Their are so many like her, it leaves you on most days wondering and shaking your head. It instills a determination to work even harder to find some truth; you see that is what these cases lack, a determined investigation commitment to find the truth.

I sat watching the public wander up for additional information, speaking with the family who sat in a line of chairs, while music from the past played in the background. I watched the family in a relaxed mode enjoying the entire day and just being together, listening at one point on how much they missed her as they share stories of her. Kerry would have never gone all this time without contacting someone.

I think to myself of how the times were back then and question myself if she was a victim of some serial killer, because she did hitch hike, she lived carefree as many young people did, and sadden by the realization of no real ground to begin to search for her. Soon speaking with the family I am renewed with hope as we develop new goals for the case and have a plan to move forward,

It truly was a good day! I left eager to begin.....

Monica Caison

Monday, September 24, 2012

Another Look at Salem Oregon

Saturday September 22nd Salem Oregon; 18 years ago today Community United Effort; Cue Center for Missing Persons was founded. What better way to acknowledge this organization that has helped so many and continues to do so than being out on the road today doing one of the many things CUE does so well; supporting families and bringing much needed attention to the missing who are from our own communities where we live.

This stop features the Tour honoree Kerry Johnson and it is awesome to see CUE's State Outreach Coordinator from Oregon on hand and fully invested at this stop. Michelle Mounts has played a huge part in helping Kerry Johnsons's family make this stop happen. Michelle has brought with her family and friends making this truly a Community United Effort.

As I begin taking pictures of the stop I come upon the family and introduce myself. Thirty years later and still no answers......unbelievable. I cannot even imagine, it's just not right. For me that not knowing was always the hardest part. I imagine thirty years of getting up every morning and wondering, thirty years of searching and constantly looking over your shoulder, thirty years of living without your loved one.  What gets a family like this through? I am sure that it is different for all, whether it be faith or that feeling of commitment and doing the right thing, or hope. Without hope what is there? Perhaps it's determination and not wanting there to be any more damage to a family already in pain. I know many times that these cases can tear a family apart and change the family relationships and dynamics forever. I experienced some of that in my own family. More than likely what keeps a family like this going is simply love.

The stop is in the parking lot of a busy mall and many people pass by, some stop and take a deeper look and ask questions and that is half the battle. Awareness; all it takes is one person to come forward and share something that has never been shared before, that one missing piece of the puzzle, the final one that can and will bring resolution to a family. The one that can bring home a missing loved one even thirty years later!
Lisa Valentino

Vancouver, Washington

On December 7, 1971, 16 year old Jamie Grissim left her foster home to go to Fort Vancouver high school ( in Clark County ) and never returned. Her foster mother never bothered to report her missing, and it was a month before a report was initiated by her caseworker. Police found her wallet and other personal effects 5 months later in east Clark County. A year later, a woman's body was found in northern Clark County. After another year, the skeletal remains of 2 young women were found 100 feet apart, a mile from where Jaime's ID's were discovered. These cases are linked to a man who worked for the Clark County parks system and had keys to every gate in every park in the county. He is suspected in at least 3 more abductions. Over 40 years later, Jaime remains a missing person.

The rally stop is held on the grounds of Jaime's old high school, hosted by her sister Starr, who was 14 when Jaime vanished decades ago. Starr greets us with a big smile and lots of hugs. She is anxious to share an old photo album full of school photos and other smiling pictures of Jaime. Her precious mementos include those items that were recovered by the police. She tells us how proud Jaime was of that laminated school ID card. I listen as she reminisces with old friends...who attended which school, who hung out with who...I learn that the school was brand new when Jaime attended it in 1971. The missing person flyer she hands me has a picture of Jaime age progressed to 51 years.  I personally find Starr an amazing, fascinating, and strong woman, having read stories about her life while researching  the cases for this tour. So I at first was interested in her relating how she had doubts about doing this today...But then don't we all second guess ourselves and struggle with doubt at times?

Starr had a large candle set out on a table to light, but a friend had brought a bunch of very colorful flowers and it was decided to pull the petals and toss them into the wind. Just as the group gathered on the steps to the high school the wind died down. So we regrouped and instead tossed them around the school sign. It made for a beautiful sight and tribute to Jaime.
Elisa Stirling

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Rally Stop Mendocino, California

We arrived late the night before because of a promise, a promise that I would set aside to go out and shoot coordinates for an upcoming search for Kathy; you see they have been waiting and the time has come to renew that effort for her. So, I got up early the next morning and we set out riding around to locations, discussing locations and doing some prep work, leaving not much time to get to the next rally stop that mid morning. The day was beautiful and surrounded by the ocean's beauty and hidden places we passed by that if time had allowed I would have turned around to go back for a second look.

Arrival to the church was very calm, welcomed in by the hungry eyes of many there, I always notice the different looks missing persons families have, it is something you just learn and in time just know. I was standing a little away from everyone for just a few minutes, silently praying for a good day, a peaceful day when walking up my way i noticed the "cop" walk, I welcomed him in appreciation, we immediately found a corner to have a private time and talk, it was a good one and much needed for the case ahead.

The event began just a bit late but it was okay, it was a very relaxing setting and mood. As each person spoke I listened, sometimes looking out to the ocean, searching for maybe some answers at times in the vast sea of a reflection. The only ones I got were not those I liked at all. The rally stops are so important, but often a hard reality that more work lies ahead in every case we have, never enough hours in a day, month or year. I always find myself wondering why many live life unscarred and so many I have met "not so much luck with that escape". Not that I would ever wish anything like having a missing person on anyone, but just in need of an answer to that question, and again it never comes.

Today the cry for help was heard by all for missing David and Kathy, media did a great story, law enforcement still offers a relentless dedication, these things are important. The church, the ocean, the soft drum beat played, candles lit all in honor of those never to be forgotten. Shelli has and continues to do an amazing job in her devotion to her missing loved one as thousands across the country do, but she is scarred and it shows, I do not feel as bad leaving this stop because I know we will be back soon for a search....I know she will be okay for now until we return.

Monica caison

Salem, Oregon

Kerry Johnson's rally stop was hosted by CUE's Oregon  State Coordinator Michelle Mounts. She had all the CUE paraphernalia already all set up when we arrived so we were pretty much good to go when we got there. It was a nice change not having to lug everything out of and back into the van. We were able to relax a little more than we usually can during a stop.

Kerry Johnson was 17 years old when she went missing 9-14-82. She had been alone and on her way to visit family. The 30th anniversary of her disappearance has just passed. Unimaginable, seriously... She is this year's tour honoree, an honor given to a case that maybe never got any press, or really needs some press.  Although, all cases on the tour are usually like that. Every year the honoree is chosen first and then the route and the other stops are built around it.

4 other cases were highlighted at this event. Samuel Boehlke was 8 years old when he went missing on 10-14-06. He was on a trip with his father at Crater Lake National Park and vanished into the woods. Sammy was autistic and feared loud noises and bright lights which complicated search efforts since they could not use the customary air horns or whistles. John Hicks went missing from Oakridge on 9-7-08. He was 47 years old. He is mentally challenged and left his trailer with only his cell phone. His sister says that she knew something wasn't right when she learned that he had not taken his dog with him. Jesus Merino-Mendoza was 3 years old when he was abducted by his father. There was a restraining order in effect prohibiting contact with both his wife and son. A felony warrant has been issued. Deward Killion vanished from Umatilla on 8-15-07 at the age of 85. He was last seen at the Target Meadows Campground where he had been camping with his wife and some friends. Searches of the area have not provided any information.

Family members of Kerry Johnson in attendance included her father, big sister, aunt and a cousin. When we arrived they were all sitting in a row. As I walked over to look at her posters and visit with them I was struck by some thoughts that were different for me. Normally my perspective is that of the mother of a missing loved one. I tend to gravitate and identify with the parents, but Kerry is only a few years older than I and has been gone for so long. I think it also was the pictures of a teenage girl in those 80's clothes. I thought of my mom, my family...but then I started talking with her sister Connie, and became curious about her mother. It seems that she is unable to attend events like these. That she chooses to believe that Kerry is out there, alive, living somewhere. Connie said it is the only way she can cope and looked at me as if to either apologize for her mother or explain that no one else believes this. And the missing child's mom immediately came back. No one can tell you how to feel, what to believe, how you should cope or how you should behave. It is a journey that no one wants to be on, that most cannot fathom...and there is no correct path. Then she told me that when her father found out that Kerry was missing the first thing he said was that he was never going to see her again. Connie said I guess he was right.
Elisa Stirling

Another Look at Mendocino

We arrive at our next stop in Mendocino California after traveling through the beautiful northern California coastline.  The Pacific Ocean is the setting for this stop honoring Kathy LaMadrid and David Neily, the setting and scene so very different from yesterday's stop yet hauntingly the same in so many ways.

While every missing persons story is different; what happened before that life changing day and what has happened since, the story and circumstances ever evolving and changing, that level of longing and that feeling of loss is the same for all.

As Shelli LaMadrid begins to speak I see the word hope standing up on the table behind her and I know that is what keeps her going. She has taken all this on in a most proactive way and listening to her speak it is clear she will not stop until their is resolution and answers. Shelli's perseverance has been unwavering since Kathy disappeared in 2004 and that is clear in what she does for others in the world of the missing. I am drawn in and feel as if I know Kathy as Shelli speaks about her and her big heart and fun loving ways. As I stand listening to Shelli I hear voices within myself asking how do you continue to do what you do for your sister all these years later?  The answer is the same for me as for Shelli; it is love and very simply how could I not?

Ryan Neily gets up and begins to share the story of his father and himself. Getting the word out for for this family has been extremely difficult and listening to Ryan speak you can hear that the pain
is as fresh today as when his dad went missing in 2006. Suspicious circumstances surround his disappearance  and all that weighs heavy on his family. I hear Ryan say that he wonders what he could have done differently, what if his father had listened to him? It is then that I remember my own feelings of guilt in Allison's case and my constant asking what if? I think many of us on this journey feel the same way. That is why the events of this Road Tour are so important to be a part of, they help us to see that we are not alone in our thoughts and feelings.

I continue to be amazed at how just simply showing up for a family makes a huge difference. It really is just that simple, showing someone you care and have not forgotten goes a long way. I have always believed that actions speak louder than words and that is exactly what this Tour is about.....Action, being proactive and not giving up.

I leave this stop a little different than when I arrived, how could I not, how could anybody not? Back on the van and on to the next stop and I know that these people I meet and the stories of their missing loved ones will stay with me and continue to impact my life.
Lisa Valentino 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mendocino, California

We had arrived so late the night before that we didn't even notice how beautiful this tourist town on the northern California Pacific coast was until morning. Luckily, we were up early and had some time to explore the area before the event. Plus eat our third meal in a row at Denny's, which made no one happy, I may not eat eggs again on this trip.

The rally was held in the courtyard of a church with a breathtaking view, and was in honor of 2 missing persons, Kathy LaMadrid and David Neily. Kathy was 40 when she went missing from Fort Bragg on 12-17-04. Search efforts in her case have been difficult as there are many possibilities in her disappearance. Part of our morning was spent attempting to narrow the focus on the many stories and rumors that surround that day she was last seen crossing a local bridge. Hopefully today's stop will bring some renewed interest, it has already sparked some new media attention. Hopefully it will bring to light some new information. David was 69 when he disappeared from Westport on 4-14-06. He was last seen at a horse ranch owned by an individual that he had an adversarial relationship with, and neighbors have reported hearing shots fired that night. Similarities exist between his case and that of another missing man, JC Cavanaugh. There is also known animosity between JC and the property owner and he was also last seen at the same location a year prior.

Shelli LaMadrid shared some of Kathy's life and story with those present. She said "Someone important to me disappeared and it changed my life..."; "In the course of dealing with the devastation of that experience, I developed a vision...To assist any family with a missing loved one..As I stand here today I'm watching my vision come to fruition" and "Everyone-every person is some one's child. Everyone deserves a chance to come home". Shelli is now the member of a Search and Rescue team. She is like so many of us, trying to take our experience and use it to help other families. Becoming involved with missing persons organizations, volunteering, networking, trying to make this journey easier for  incoming families. Trying to find some purpose for why she was thrown into this nightmare world. It was evident though that even though she is attempting to channel her pain it is still raw for her. 

Ryan Neily is sure he knows what happened to his father. He spoke of his frustrations with the investigation. Of finding his father's dog locked in in his truck on that day 6 years ago, how his father would never leave his dog behind. Of knowing where his father must be but being unable to bring him home. His sister Lisa, who was unable to attend, sent a statement in which she wrote "Our goal with this rally is to get the word out about our dad..." and " ...Deserves to be found just like every other missing person. Someone knows something...It's a full time job when you are searching for a loved one who has gone missing". Reminds me so much about my experience searching for Mathew. I knew where Matt was from that first day when he did not come home. I know firsthand the frustration in knowing precisely where your missing loved one is and still not being able to get to them, to bring them home. At least in Mathew's case I was searching mainly on public property and I could continue searching as long and as many times as was needed until I got resolution. David is most likely on the property of the person responsible for his disappearance making searching impossible without a warrant. I know way too many families in this situation.  Perpetrators  holding onto property to ensure that their victims are never found. An older woman rose to speak about David, she had been his girlfriend in high school in the 1950's. She had travelled to make this event, it being important to her, he being important to her. It's astounding the collateral damage that occurs when someone goes missing.

On a positive note, the local Lieutenant not only attended the rally, making time to talk to all involved, but also spoke. The rally closed with prayers for resolution and a candle lighting ceremony. As always it was difficult to leave. As always we ended up staying much later than we should have. As always we remained long after packing up. As always one of us had to go over and gently pull Monica away from the families. But, as always we needed to get back on the road.
Elisa Stirling

Another Look at Los Angeles

The scene is the Los Angeles County Court House, out front there are people gathering along with banners, posters, family photographs and a family who five years later are still seeking resolution and justice for their daughter Donna Jou. This is another step on this journey that has become their lives. The pain, anguish and loss just as fresh today as it was five years ago.

You can see it in their faces and hear it in their voices; their emotions running high and their loss so deep that they cry out. The answers they seek seem so simple; "Where is our daughter?" "How could the justice system fail us and others so miserably?" As I watch and listen to all that is unfolding I too feel their frustration, anger and disappointment. I feel their pain and anguish over the loss of their daughter and my heart breaks for them. I feel a connection, one that I have experienced many times over these last six years with other families who have a missing loved one. I am reminded and begin to understand the importance of a rally stop like this and the importance of this Road Tour.

The Tour is meant to bring awareness and media attention to these cold cases, bringing the stories and lives of those missing front and center once again in hopes of gaining new information and answers. To the families however there is another side that is just as important. This tour and these rally stops bring hope, encourage families and let them know they are not forgotten and that someone does care and is there for them as they continue this journey. It enables parents like Donna Jou's to continue fighting, searching and persevering to get the answers they seek.

I am moved by the courage and strength of this family as they continue on this journey not only for their daughter, but for those who come after as well, hoping and praying that their fight will prevent this from happening to someone else.

I am inspired by them and the many families I know who never give up, whose faith, compassion, commitment and love inspire me to do more. I am renewed and filled with hope knowing that in the end love always overcomes evil, and reminded as well that each one of us was created to be the answer to some one's prayer!
Lisa Valentino

Rally Stop Los Angeles, California

Excited about being the first stop of the tour and always ready to see those you have known so long we set out to the court house. Upon arrival Donna's parents greeting us before we could fully get out of the vehicle, they were so grateful and excited the road tour had finally arrived. The street side walk was lined with signs crying out with pleas from the ones who love Donna Jou in an effort to seek justice, in the middle of it all their was a large banner with the picture of Donna and her missing information displayed. I stopped briefly and take in a large breathe of air, fighting back any emotion of the years of pain I personally know that this family has endured, allowing a flood of memories to enter of different moments I have shared with several loved ones of Donna including her parents.

Immediately we go into action setting up other tour displays and distributing press kits and information. After the press conference and interviews are complete we move to the center flooring of the court house square to release the balloons, a few words from spoken, a very nice heartfelt prayer, we launch the balloons, up and away they go, some did not travel as far as the others, but it was ok.

Then out of nowhere a cry, straight from the depths of a wounded soul and as loud as a fire truck screaming through the streets, Donna's mom begins to cry out for her daughter, she cried out for the years of holding in the pain and being strong, she cried out for mercy in her search for her hurts and stopped each person in attendance in their tracks, as if a moment in time just became frozen!

I think each person there and even those passing where rocked to their core, some becoming upset themselves and joining this mother in her grief. I went to her, spoke in her ear the entire time I held her, speaking words I knew she needed to hear and words she trusted when coming from me, the trusted words she is familiar with over the years built in our journey together searching for Donna Jou, she finally became calm; but the pain of what this family has and still suffers.... now, raw again and that never goes away for any family who has a missing loved one.

We stayed longer at this stop than we were scheduled to, it was needed. We began to pack up and prepare for leaving to the next stop, this is the part I hate....the families begin to look at you, that gleem of desperation sometimes can be so strong it almost sucks the air right from you, something over time you just get use too, or at least try too....I do not think you ever can really, I think we just maybe condition ourselves to recognize it. Nonetheless that eye to eye connection now has arrived and Donna's father began to fall apart, he is so broken in private moments. In front of the world, he is that tower of strength determined to find his daughter. We could not leave yet because he needed that same embrace and words just as Donna's mother did just a half hour prior, he needed his release just a little more in private, so we gave that to him.

Emotionally wiped out and now driving off into the jungle of traffic ahead it was very had to speak a word, it was very hard to grasp a single thought of anything other than what just had taken place in the last few was just a hard time. Then someone finally speaks to make a funny comments and the mood changes and we are entering on the highway and gaining ground to the next stop, for me silently my mind is swirling with the agony we just left behind us, I find myself already missing the family of Donna Jou, that feeling stayed with me for several hours that day.

Monica Caison

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Los Angeles, California

Well, we certainly hit the ground running with our first rally stop this morning. It was held in front of the Criminal Justice Building in downtown LA, a place Donna Jou's parents have visited and protested in front of too many times in the past 5 years. 19 year old college student  Donna Jou disappeared in '07. A convicted sexual predator has confessed to being involved in her death and to dumping her body into the ocean. Her family believes that he is responsible for her death and is lying about the location of her remains. Without much evidence and only his version of what occurred he was convicted of just involuntary manslaughter and was released from prison after serving less than half of a 5 year sentence.
I was very pleased with the press turnout, which included not only local reporters but also national coverage including Dateline. The balloons had Donna's picture on one side and her information printed on the other, that's the first time I had seen that. Donna's father began with an emotional speech detailing all his frustrations with the criminal justice system. He said "...Why must we scream at them for justice and why do our screams fall only on deaf ears?" ; "From the day my daughter disappeared, every waking moment plunges me deeper into an ever-expanding downward spiral";  and " As decent human beings who respect humanity and cause no harm to others, we have the right to expect no harm to come to us...".
After he spoke the group moved to the balloon release area and sent them skyward, after Monica spoke and the family's Minister said a prayer. I watched  as Donna's mom, Nili,  stood excited next to Monica watching the balloons, but as they drifted further and further away she broke down sobbing uncontrollably. It was a sharp contrast from the woman I had encountered an hour earlier.A woman who greeted me with a huge smile, reminding me that we had met at a conference 4 years previously.  A woman who had done so much to ensure this rally stop's success. A woman who was trying so hard to hold it all together. A woman who was willing to do anything to bring her missing child home. A woman who is so much like the too many mothers I have encountered over the last 7 years. I woman who reminds me so much of myself.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Los Angeles Prep Day

We descended upon Los Angeles yesterday. I arrived first and got in some much appreciated family time.  We  tried to get on west coast time but were still up extremely early this morning. It was  good though, as we got a lot accomplished.  So many boxes, so much to organize and get prepared. Running errands in this city is interesting... All everyone here talks about is the traffic, the traffic, the traffic,...we need to pick up the banner at 5:30 but MUST leave by 4. Soon we will make our first attempt at packing up and organizing the van. It usually takes a few rally stops to get in the groove of what needs to come out and where to keep everything but it will all come together, it always does. Tomorrow morning it will be on... And I cannot wait...

Preparing for the tour...

So many things have to be accomplished in preparation for the national tour, planning, ordering items, printing and about a hundred other details no one could understand unless they have helped in the actual tour; with that said we finally have set out. This year because we wanted to tour the west coast and save time we decided to fly to California, do a lot of the on ground logistics here and set out a couple of days later, this is where we are at now, today! We landed last night, exhausted...we have shipped a ton of items here prior so first on the agenda was to pick up the 15 passenger van, and set up a meeting time to retrieve our shipments. The time change has brought me to awake at 4am, clearly going to sleep to early California time last night; now we have a to early start today, lol.  Wish us luck we have a busy time ahead!