Friday, August 12, 2005

Hometown Girl

It’s not exactly the kind of place that comes to mind when you think of a big mystery. It’s a city of about 43,000, situated in central Nebraska. It’s where my roots are. The name of this harbor of kind souls is Grand Island, Nebraska.

I lived most of my life in this fairly quiet community. Many of our family members still live there. Jason was born in this city, and even though we had lived in Omaha for a number of years when he disappeared, the people of Grand Island didn’t forget that he was one of their own.

These kind people launched email campaigns about his disappearance, wrote to their senators to help pass Jason’s Law, placed yellow remembrance ribbons on their trees, and special license plate holders on their cars. They still ask my mother and my mother-in-law if we have any news about Jason. We don’t.

Besides their generosity of spirit when it came to helping look for Jason, I’m now proud of the people of Grand Island for stepping up to the plate and going to bat for a perfect stranger and a family in need. I don’t think they will ever know how much their actions meant to a mother and father in great pain.

FT. Wayne, Indiana is a long way away from Grand Island. In fact, it’s 761 miles almost due east of Grand Island. The drive time is 12.5 hours.

When Jennifer Zachman, age 22, disappeared after stopping at a pawn shop in Grand Island, the distance between the cities mattered not to her parents, Tom and Jane Zachman, of Ft. Wayne. They came without hesitation. They came with full intention of bringing their daughter back home, and ending the mystery just as soon as it had begun.

Jennifer left Ft. Wayne on July 8, possibly heading for Colorado, where she has relatives. Her car was abandoned on July 12th on Highway 34, near Grand Island. Someone gave her a ride into Grand Island. They said Jennifer seemed fine. She was last seen at a Grand Island pawn shop. Her possessions were left in the car. Jennifer does not have a credit card or a cell phone.

Tom and Jane spent days saturating the area with posters of Jennifer. With the help of friends, family, and the kind people of central Nebraska, they placed posters all along Interstate 80 from Colorado to Indiana. They stopped in small towns and larger ones, ensuring that law enforcement and the public knew about Jennifer. Authorities did searches and checked out a few leads that came in, and still, no Jennifer.

The situation was taking a toll on the Zachmans. They became frustrated, and the feeling of helplessness grew as the leads diminished. They wondered why authorities didn’t look into the fact that a car was abandoned along the highway for 2 days. They don’t understand why the case is not being looked into more actively.

My mother ran into Tom at a mall in Grand Island. She told him about Project Jason and our own experience. She could see the fear and pain etched deeply into his face. She knows firsthand the weariness of the seeker. We all know this very well, and can see it every time we look in the mirror. My mother-in-law also helped put us in contact with Tom and Jane, as she knew some of the citizens who were making sure the Zachmans were as comfortable as they could be for their very unwanted stay in Grand Island.

As soon as I had their phone number, I called them. They were on their way back to Ft. Wayne. They could not continue to stay. The defeat in Tom’s voice was clear as was the total exhaustion, both mental and physical. We didn’t talk long, as he was driving. I made sure they had started with some of the basics and agreed to contact them after they were home and rested.

There was no rest when they arrived back home. There were only tears, anxieties, and emptiness.

Tom shares what we who live in the “not knowing” understand:

“We see Jennifer in serious trouble, with no money cell phone, car, or clothes other than those she is wearing. We can't imagine how she is surviving.

We don't know what happened to her. Whether she left of her own accord or whether she was abducted in Grand Island. Our greatest fear is that she has been killed or that she is being held by someone who is harming her. How do we deal with that? - not well. It makes us sick to our stomachs and we can't get much help which is so frustrating.

There is great emptiness in our lives now, a great fear for Jennifer, we hope every day that we will hear from her or that someone has spoken to her. Her mother cries constantly as does her younger sister. We constantly examine things we have done, are we in some way to blame for this. We just don't know.

There is nothing worse than losing a child, that not knowing where she is or what has happened to her just tears your heart out. That you know that your life will never be the same until your child returns.”

The love of a child has no boundaries. There are no mountains you wouldn’t climb or rivers you wouldn’t cross to find the one you love. My interview questions brought the realization of the horrors that the parents of a missing child face right back to the surface, like pouring salt into an open wound.

I can tell you from my experience how painful it was for Tom to answer my questions for this interview. He did it without hesitation, just as he and Jane jumped in their car and came all the way to Nebraska to look for Jennifer. You see, it doesn’t matter how old your child is……they will always be your child, and you will always love them.

Tom and Jane were grateful for the kindness of the people of my hometown, as well as the generous local media coverage. Sarah Schultz of the Grand Island Daily Independent wrote several articles about Jennifer’s disappearance, and I have no doubt she was as compassionate when speaking with the Zachmans, as she was each time she spoke to us when writing about Jason.

What the Zachmans didn’t get, however, was any national media coverage. It was not for lack of trying. Tom feels they only cover the very photogenic, or situations where it is suspected that a crime was committed. He doesn’t understand why a car owned by a shy girl, filled with possessions and left abandoned in central Nebraska, is not mystery enough for the major news networks. “There are others out there who are missing and need some help and aren't getting it,” Tom said.

The Zachmans have a message for Jennifer, and they hope and pray she can read it:

“Jennifer, we love you and want you to come back home. We want you to know that hundreds of people are looking for you, praying for you and your safe return. We want you to know how important you are to us, to all of your family, uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents.”

Tom and Jane would much prefer that Jennifer is back in her hometown of Ft. Wayne. Even though I’m partial to my hometown, I most certainly agree. Grand Island can get by without a mystery. Jennifer’s life is much too valuable for that.

For additional information, more photos, and updates on Jennifer’s story, please see the Project Jason forum at


Anonymous Anonymous said...


10:31 AM  
Blogger Kelly Jolkowski said...

Thank you for letting us know. As you can see by the update, Jennifer is indeed alive and well.

Thank goodness.


1:53 PM  

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