10/13/05 Beautiful Boy
The song continues:
“Out on the ocean sailing away
I can hardly wait
To see you come of age
But I guess we’ll both just have to be patient
’cause it’s a long way to go
A hard row to hoe
Yes it’s a long way to go
But in the meantime
Before you cross the street
Take my hand
Life is what happens to you
While you’re busy making other plans….”
I don’t think this young man or his mother planned what happened in their lives. His mother lamented: “Whatever happened has cheated him out of his life. He should have finished college, married, had children, grown into a man's body.”
And yes, it’s been a long way to go for his mother.
Her pain did not decrease with the passage of time. It was evident in her writing and in her eyes when I saw her speak at the Cue Center Conference last April. Linda Miller is a beautiful woman. Her long blonde hair frames her face and her sad eyes. She fights to keep the memory of her son alive in the hearts and minds of others so that she can find the answer to the mystery of his disappearance.
Linda's son, Jeffrey Lee Ben, was last seen leaving his uncle's house at around 1am on January 29, 2001, right after their Super Bowl Sunday get together. A close knit-family, Jeffrey hugged his uncle and cousin good-bye. He drove his father's truck down the road. Just 15 minutes later, neighbors heard a crash and voices near a bridge on the Kiamichi River. Authorities say that Jeffrey missed a turn on Nine Pine Road and the truck slammed into a tree. There was little damage to the truck and also no evidence that Jeffrey was badly injured as there was no blood, and there was also no Jeffrey.
“…Close your eyes
Have no fear
The monster’s gone…”
His hometown, Clayton, OK, has a population of less than a thousand people. It's one of those places where everyone knows each other. That makes it difficult to fathom that no one knows what happened to Jeffrey. Whose voices did neighbors hear? One theory states that the river near where the crash site was swollen because of heavy rains in the area. Police were unable to search it at that time because the river level was unstable, although searches were done later on. Police, however, suspect foul play. There has been no activity on Jeffrey's bank account or credit cards since that night and no solid leads. The family has placed a lockbox near the accident scene so that tips can be given anonymously.
Since Jeffrey disappeared, two other young men--Joe Keys and Darrell Hammons, have also disappeared in the local area. Very little information is available about these cases. Linda fears that these cases may be tied to the drug activity that exists locally. "When drugs are involved, you just don't know," she said.
Family is very important to Jeffrey. When you read more about him, you get the strong sense that nothing would keep him out of touch with those whom he loves. He is a hugger, and demonstrating his love of family and friends was the norm for this popular and much loved young man. He was crowned the Homecoming King in high school, and was active in sports, including basketball and baseball.
In a strong parallel to my own son's story, Jeffrey dreams of being a sportscaster. He is a walking sports statistic machine, with phenomenal knowledge of a myriad of sports. I'd love nothing better than for these two to get together and compare their “internal” sports databases.
Linda describes Jeffrey: "He is the most beautiful young man in God's creation: tall, dark, handsome and physically perfect. I miss EVERYTHING about Jeffrey, his voice, his touch, his smile, his hugs, his scent, his presence,...EVERYTHING. Everything about his existence had meaning to me."
Although you cannot look at her, you can surely "see" the pain in Linda's words when she speaks of this life-changing event: "It has changed our lives forever. I have lost some of my innocent naivety. Our family circle has been broken and there is a sadness there that will never disappear until Jeffrey is home. I am frustrated by the lack of law enforcement aggression, laws that protect the criminals, and lack of empathy from others. It is not their problem. It does not affect their lives personally. It makes me angry that there is a coward out there that did this and is getting away with it.
I fear that something terrible happened that night and I cannot even bring myself to say that word. I pray constantly-I have two small children that keep me grounded and I know they cannot live without me. I have a daughter that I mean everything to me, and she cannot live without me, so I deal with what has happened to him by putting them first. It is a very hard thing to deal with and I have such vivid emotions at times that without God, I think I would have surely died."
Like so many of those of us who live in the “not knowing”, Linda wants to see change in how these cases are handled: “Let’s get laws changed so that every missing person case is treated as a possible homicide so that evidence will not be lost right from the beginning. The last place a person was should be searched without actual physical evidence of a crime. Let's take missing person cases seriously. Require law enforcement to take classes on how to react when a person becomes missing and know what to do.”
Linda is right in that these cases need to be taken seriously and action should occur immediately. Training is a huge issue in many jurisdictions. The money is just not there unless it becomes a priority.
She pleads: “Imagine for one moment that this is your child, feel that pain long enough to want to find this person. You are not promised a tomorrow so make sure today that your loved ones KNOW how much you love them and take time to enjoy every precious moment God gives you with them.”
“…Before you go to sleep
Say a little prayer
Every day in every way
It’s getting better and better
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Jeffrey is forever Linda’s beautiful boy. She is grateful for the 18 years she had with him. She won’t let him be forgotten, either. “We have an annual candlelight prayer vigil downtown Clayton where he disappeared from. We have a float in the annual homecoming parade for Jeffrey. The local media will then tell his story again. I put articles in the paper from time to time. These efforts tell this town that we will not forget Jeffrey.”
For now, Jeffrey lives on in her memory but Linda has hope she may kiss him goodnight once again, and that he will be there to return her love with his strong embrace in the morning.
“…Darling, darling, darling, darling Jeffrey.
Goodnight Jeffrey, see you in the morning.”
Please learn more about this “beautiful boy” at his website http://www.jeffreyben.com/
Updated on 4/3/06 with a tribute to Jeffrey: