10/08/05 A Rainy Day in New York City
We passed Jason's Law, and now have a comprehensive State Missing Person's Clearinghouse in the works. I will reflect on other events in my next post.
One of my reader's favorite stories (pre-blog) was the story of our trip to New York City for the filming of the Montel Williams Show. This took place last November. The show aired November 29, 2004, and was repeated twice. I include it in Project Jason's accomplishments because it happened as a result of our work with Project Jason.
This is my original press release for the show's airing:
Will Three Minutes on National TV Unravel a Three Year Old Mystery?
For more than three years, the family of Jason Jolkowski fought to get national media attention for this baffling and seemingly unsolvable missing person's case. Will their appearance on the Montel Williams Show on Monday, November 29th, shed any light on the case, or will they remain in the limbo state of "not knowing"?
Nearly 3 ½ years ago, on a warm summer day, then 19 year-old Jason Jolkowski stepped out onto the driveway of his Omaha, NE home, and was never seen or heard from again. Veteran detectives have not been able to make a dent in what is called one of the most baffling cases in 30 years. His case remains open on the Major Crimes Unit.
In Jason's case, there are no suspects. He had no known enemies. There is no evidence he was taken, but yet the evidence that he left willingly is lacking. He did his household chores right before he left. As his parents were both at work, there would have been no reason to do his chores if he was unhappy with them and planned to leave. He left for work wearing dress pants and shoes. He didn't take other clothes or possessions. He had about $650 in the bank, and was due to get another check from his job two days later. His car was in the shop and repairs would be completed within two days. His bank account and cell phone were never touched and Jason failed to pick up his check at work.
What could have happened to this young man, who was loved and respected by family and friends, and well known for his stint as a D.J. on The River, a local college radio station?
As national media coverage for missing young men is difficult, if not nearly impossible to come by, the Jolkowskis feel fortunate that they were selected to be on the show. Jim and Kelly, Jason's parents, hope that the for the few minutes they appear on the Montel Williams Show, someone, somewhere, will see the story and come forward with information that will help solve their son's case, and provide the answers they have longed for.
As you know, the few minutes on national TV did not unravel the mystery of our son's disappearance. While each airing netted several tips, none panned out.
I wrote this story about our trip:
Thursday morning arrived before I knew it. There was a flurry of activity as we packed and checked to make sure we had everything we needed to take. Amazingly enough, no one forgot anything!
It was hard to believe that it was really happening and that we were on our way. I remained fairly calm, and I wondered if, as the time approached for the actual taping, if I would become so nervous that it would effect me physically as well. By this time, we had numerous prayer chains going all over the Internet with our family and friends. I knew my calm was because of those prayers.
Our flight and arrival was uneventful. Our driver from the Montel Show (MS)was waiting for us with one of those name signs like you see on TV. It was all surreal, but yet very real. The driver was very helpful and told us some secrets about eating in NYC for less money, and some tips about getting around. I asked him about famous people who rode in his car. That very morning Olivia Newton-John rode with him.
We checked in at the hotel in Manhattan (near Times Square) and I called one of our contacts with another family who is to be featured on the show, too.We had prearranged that we would go out to eat on Thursday night. We had a lovely dinner together and then we walked to the Empire State Building and saw the views. It was a good thing that we went that night, as Friday turned out to be cold and rainy, and it stayed that way all day long. (The contacts I speak of were Sharon Rausch and her daughter, Crystal, from Maura Murray's story.)
On Friday morning, we took the subway to Battery Park. I thought it would be neat to experience the subway and see the people of NYC. My wish was granted as there were three men on our car who were very chatty, and then all of a sudden, they burst into song. They were very talented, and sang a soulful three-part harmony. They walked up and down in the car singing to each individual. The passengers couldn't help but smile.
I wanted to take the Staten Island Ferry out into the Harbor to go by the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, we didn't have time. We took a couple of photos and decided to catch a cab back to the hotel. I had to meet with the NBC people at 11:30am. (I had a pre-arranged interview with the NYC Telemundo station) As Murphy's Law would have it, once we arrived at the hotel, the reporter called and said they were running late because of traffic. They didn't end up arriving until about 12:20.
That interview went really well and the reporter said it may broadcast this Friday night. She said she will let me know. I was able to have time to tell Jason's story, plus cover some of Project Jason's main benefits and the Personal ID Kit, which is available in Spanish to download. I think it really hit home for them when I explained just how many missing people there are each and every year. Out of 850,000 cases, at least 97,000 will remain active. (unsolved) I told them to imagine that a good sized city of 97,000 disappears every year.
The NBC interview went on until it was time to go to the MS studios. I even had to send Michael back upstairs to the room to get my purse and the box of Personal ID Kits which were our allowed audience handout. Our MS liaison hailed a cab for us in the rain and we were on our way. I was glad that I had kept so busy with the other interview so that I didn't have time to get nervous. Fear of the unknown can really wreak havoc. I reminded myself that we had prayers of hundreds of people going, and that through those prayers,God would give us the strength we needed. I remembered many times when I was afraid and how afterwards, the "scary" thing was not so bad and I always lived to tell about it.
Everyone at the studio was very nice and helpful, and made sure we knew what we were to do. Michael, Jim, and I had our own private waiting room, called a "Green Room". They provided plenty of snacks and drinks. There was a monitor in the room so that you could watch the taping of the show before ours. Different staff came in for us to sign papers and brief us on questions and the focus they wanted. Michael would stay in the room the entire time while Jim and I went to hair and makeup. He had his laptop from school with him, so he wasn't bored, plus he could watch our taping, too.
When we finished hair and makeup, there was a break in between taping of shows. Soon, Jim and I were called downstairs to the room where all of the guests stayed while waiting for their turn onstage. An overhead monitor showed what would be on the show, at least in rough draft form. The MS show had sent a cameraman to our home a few weeks prior to tape and they used that footage along with photos as an introduction, and during the on-stage time. They did this for each of the four families. There was plenty of fruit and other snacks in that room, but no one was eating. We were all fitted with microphones and then the taping was to begin. We spoke to each other when the monitor was dark for commercial breaks, but it was just chit-chat interspersed with words of encouragement.
Missing Maura Murray's family went first, and they had the longest segment. They showed how her father, Fred, went on foot searches every weekend in the wooded area where his daughter disappeared. As he turned over tarps and looked in drainage pipes, (from his pre-show footage) you could feel the pain that must cause, thinking that you might uncover a body, the body of your own child. I fought back tears.
Next was Meghan, whose mother Jan Stavros disappeared a couple of years ago. She started crying on air, but was able to go on. What a brave young woman! She also stated what she thought happened to her mother and who did it. I wonder if they will edit this out. I would think so. (They did.)
Missing college student Brooke Wilberger's siblings took the stage next. One of the sisters had a really hard time and cried, but was still able to speak. I hoped I would not cry because when I do, I cannot speak. Upon hearing the stories and seeing the pain of these families, you couldn't help but get teary eyed. I had to really fight it because our turn was next. (God rest her soul.)
We were called and stood together at the double doors that separated us from the studio audience and Montel. A man stood by, waiting for the cue to open the doors. I said a quick prayer, the doors opened, and we took the two steps up to the stage. The audience applauded. Two chairs were set up by Montel and I took the one beside him as I walked on first. He shook hands with us. More footage rolled by with Jason's photo.
Some of this is a blur because of the nature of it all. I felt calm and I knew I could do it. It was also reassuring that his interactions with the other families were very compassionate, and there were no hard questions we hadn't been asked beforehand. I recall looking into his eyes and answering his first question about what Jason is like. I think Jim added to it as well. I was able to look out into the audience and felt they were all very attuned to our stories. Jim answered a question about what we thought had happened to Jason and he made a plea to the audience to help us and to ease our pain. He seemed calm as well.
The other families had two segments, but after that portion, Montel thanked us for being there. We thanked him for having us there, shook hands, and walked offstage. Of course, I had much more to say, but we were the short segment and it was over as quick as it began. With a viewing audience (I am told) of 43 million, we will take what we can get. Out of hundreds of thousands, we were chosen, and we are very blessed.
Note: Sharon Rausch was instrumental in getting us on the show. She was grateful for the help we had given in Maura's case, and she pushed the producers to include Jason's story. We'll be forever grateful to her.
After that, Kym Pasqualini, founder of the Center for Missing Adults took the stage and spoke about the prejudices families like ours encounter. I was glad it was over for us. We could really feel the relief in the room with the other family members. As the staff members told us, it would go very fast, and it did.
When the taping was over, we all went back upstairs and prepared to leave. Montel had to leave town immediately, so we did not see him again. We were given a guest bag with a Montel T-shirt, hat, photo, and other goodies. We were told the show could air anywhere from 2 weeks to 4months from the taping date.
One of the assistants went back out to the studio to see if there were any of our Project Jason Personal ID Kits left over. We brought 200. There were 150 in the audience, and they were all gone. That made me happy to think that 200 more people would understand the need for a kit, and have that valuable info in case they become a statistic. Anyone who thinks it can't happen to them is sadly mistaken. We never would have imagined this happening to our family, but it has.
We said our good-byes to the staff and other families and headed back to the hotel. We changed clothes and took a cab to the Museum of Natural History. We then went to St Patrick's Cathedral and after that walked back to Times Square and found a place to eat. It was cold, rainy, and uncomfortable, but I think our hearts were warmed by knowing that we had come this far, not just in miles, but in our efforts to find our son. We went back to the hotel early, as we had to get up at 5am to leave the city and go back to our life in Omaha.
We were also blessed in that they allowed our son, Michael, to come and paid his way, even though he wasn't on the show. As we cannot afford to travel, he's never been anywhere or been on an airplane. He had a good time. I figured it was a gift I could give him for having lost his only brother, so I had pushed for his inclusion on the trip.
Sleep didn't come easily for some reason. I then woke up at 2am and was unable to get back to sleep. The alarm went off at 5am and we prepared to leave. It would be a long day, but we could be fueled by knowing that we had accomplished what we set out to do. We went down to the lobby and stepped outside onto the picturesque New York Street. The streets were nearly silent, which was such a change from the norm there. I looked up at the dark sky, partially lit by the old lampposts, and saw that a cleansing snow was falling ever so gently upon the brick streets. God had sent us that sign that He has never left our side and that life is indeed beautiful.
Courtesy of Jim Viola, husband of missing Patricia Viola, you can watch the video clip of our segment on the Montel Williams Show by clicking here: http://tinyurl.com/dcc7z