Tuesday, November 08, 2005

11/8/05 Prayers and Posters Part I

Prayers and posters are what kept Linda Katcher Griffiths going for the past 5 years. November 5th marked 5 years since the disappearance of her son, Ryan, who was 19 at the time. Prayers and Posters is the name of my son’s website. After a period of time, I also believed that prayers and posters is what I had to get me through this. Jason was also 19 when he disappeared. There were many “coincidences” that brought Linda and I together.

“I have said from the beginning all I have is prayers and posters. One day I received a call asking if I would talk with another M.O.M. (Mom Of Missing, I call us) Her website was called Prayers and Posters, so I said yes, I would call her This MOM was Kelly Jolkowski, Jason’s mom, who later started Project Jason. We have remained friends and supporters ever since,” Linda explains.

Linda is a trauma nurse. She spends her days caring for people dealing with many forms of physical trauma, all the while, dealing with her ongoing personal trauma. In yet another life correlation, both Linda and I experienced the death of a loved one before our sons disappeared. I dealt with the unexpected death of my father 2 days before Christmas 1999, and Linda lost her husband to cancer.

“I believe any tragedy can make you better or bitter,” Linda says. “My husband suffered a lengthy battle with cancer. It made our family very close and drew me closer to God. I thought it was the hardest thing I had ever done until Ryan disappeared.”

Linda tells us about Ryan:

“Ryan was a curious child. He loved his carefree life in the country: always climbing in or on something, cabinets, dryer, or on the roof. He would take apart a radio just to see how it worked. Those who know him will recall the go-cart accident that gave him a concussion.

He enjoyed our simple life, his family, his friends, his dog, fishing, and hunting. He enjoyed his own space, country music, and his now missing Ford F150 pick up truck. Ryan is close to his sister Steph. She is older and also had attended the University of Illinois. He looked up to her and confided in her. They both had the nickname “Katch” or “Katcher”. Ryan was a marketing major in the College of Business at the University of Illinois. He was on the deans list. He enjoyed school and the friends he met there. His hobbies are working on computers, surfing the internet, and carpentry.

Ryan asked to live at home his freshman year to help out after his dad’s death. He helped with everything from the attic vents to the lawn mower. Ryan was often aided by his friend Travis.

(See Travis’ touching letter about Ryan in this previous post, entitled “Lesson in the Loss” : http://voice4themissing.blogspot.com/2005/09/92305-lesson-in-loss.html )

Ryan’s goal was to graduate from the University of IL College of Business Administration. He had requested to live at home his freshman year because of his fathers recent death. He had just moved out of the house to live at the U of I two months before he disappeared to attend his sophomore year. I have pictures of Ryan going off to school every year. It was no different in August 2000, when Ryan and his girlfriend loaded up the truck and I got my picture of him going off to school. He moved out for the first time, and I cried just like I did when he went to kindergarten. Little did I know what would soon take place.”

Ryan went to a party with his friends on the night of November 5th, 2005. Sometime around 2am, both Ryan and his truck disappeared. Linda recalls: “Ryan attended a party along with other local friends. My fear is his bad choices may have caused his death. My other fear is that someone took advantage of Ryan since he was drunk and could not walk. Drugs may mask this person from remembering what they did to Ryan. My greatest fear is never being able to hug Ryan again or when I see him, he will not remember me. Many want to blame those at the party, but I have no room for blame. Ryan may have made a mistake. I hope he lives to tell his own story. My only goal is to find him.”

Intensive searches were made for Ryan, but to no avail. Linda contacted public relations at the University Of Illinois to ask for help and was denied:

“I asked them to send an email to the students and faculty who were about to leave on Thanksgiving break. I pleaded that Ryan was a sophomore there; he had helped with leadership training of freshman so others knew him at the faculty level. I said I had been an ILLINI mom in 1995 and knew there were 12,000 faculty and 35,000 students that I could not reach. I had given Ryan to them and the U of I just two months earlier. I did not know his professors, his classmates or even his room mates. I needed their help. They denied it, stating they could not submit too many emails to the students or they would not read them. They said students go missing all the time, too many for them to do this each time. I reminded him that the university had just sent out emails for the students to behave at the Michigan football game. They again denied my request. My impression was that the university could not be in any way implicated to a missing student even if he lived on campus. The blessing is that Ryan came home that weekend and I did not have to depend on the U of I for the investigation. I will forever wonder if that helped in my search for Ryan. (Because Ryan disappeared from near his home in Oakwood, IL, the police there, rather than campus police, were in charge of the investigation.) My only link and support became the students and the Daily Illini newspaper.”

Linda didn’t let their denial stop her from trying:

“I contacted everyone I knew or had helped before to solicit help for the search. We have prayer cards, buttons, bumper stickers, cook books and now the bracelets. Semi trucks from McLain’s and hundreds from the Teamsters placed Ryan’s truck posters on the back of their semis. All of these to maintain that same goal: find Ryan.

We currently have a $10,000 reward as incentive to Ryan’s search. It is not known if this helps or not. We have maintained a website since November 2000.
www.findryan.com It tells Ryan’s story and has links to other missing persons. Again, it keeps his face and story on many minds. There has been past problems with the message board. Often it provided rumors, not facts. There also were attacks on me and my family. (As you read Linda’s story, you will be amazed and heartbroken that she was publicly accused of not caring about Ryan or the search for him by people on the message board.)

Annually, we do events for Ryan’s birthday and missing date. We have planted trees in his honor, held prayer vigils, and done fingerprinting or safety classes. One year the Orange Crush and a U of I basketball player, Lucas Johnson, honored Ryan at the final four basketball game by wearing his name on an arm band.”

And still, time wore a path through the empty place in Linda’s heart. She and Steph prayed that Ryan would be home for her wedding in 2001. He was not. Posters remain at Linda’s workplace, doctor’s office and other places she and Ryan frequented. Linda contacted everyone she knew or had helped before to solicit more help for the ongoing search. To this day, Ryan’s grandmother, Linda’s mom, continues to wear Ryan’s white tribute ribbon.

Every year, Linda looks through all of the case notes on Ryan’s disappearance. She tries to see it with fresh eyes and a desire born of love. She spends hours pouring over the information, looking for something that might have been missed before. The passage of time marked by the change of seasons is frustrating. As the leaves change color once again, and fall, we are reminded that we still live in the not knowing.

“Until Ryan disappeared we had been together every birthday and holiday,” said Linda. “I miss this and Ryan’s hugs. February 4, 2005 marked Ryan’s 24 birthday. It was the fifth one we have held without him being here. We will be together someday and until then, he is always in my heart.

While searching for support, I met Joan Petruski of the Kristen Foundation. During our first phone interview I remember telling Joan what a good person Ryan was. He was on the Dean’s List at the U of I, he was a wonderful son and attended church every Sunday. She commented “Honey it doesn’t matter if he does drugs--every mom deserves to find her child”. How true this is.

In the beginning I wish now we had used scent dogs for our search. We worked the search from things that were 99% probable to things that were 1% probable. Every year I start here and do the same thing, always trying to look at it in a different perspective. It was most likely that we were looking for Ryan in his truck. He had been drinking, so he could be in a tree, in the river, just about anywhere off road. Did he make it home? Did he have his truck? I am open for ideas. Often missing persons are just found off the beaten path. So there is where I look.

I am lucky that the search can and does continue, thanks to the local law enforcement, and all those who have learned about Ryan from me or the media. It is very important to me to keep Ryan’s face and story on everyone’s minds. This way I have many people involved in his search, and as an added blessing, more prayers for me.”

As those of us who walk in our shoes know, the media plays an important part in the ongoing search. Linda has had several successes in this area, although as of yet, no missing adult male stories have become nationally known.

“There is a catch 22. The media is more interested if there is a spicy past. Ryan was a good kid who may have done something stupid. He never dated a senator. He was not depressed. There was no scandal. He had lived thru horrible stresses and was growing into a good Christian.

Still, at times the media showed interest. I have been interviewed on CNN, MSNBC and The Montel Show. Annually, Ryan is remembered locally by the media. I greatly appreciate these poor souls listening to me talk about Ryan. I know my time is limited so I try hard to tell the story, but the hurt still comes thru. It’s the mom in me. They can tell Ryan’s story once and contact more people than I can in a day passing out poster by poster.
(We are still waiting for Ryan’s story in the Chicago Tribune. It is should be in the paper any day now.)

A complete success would have found Ryan or at least one lead. I measure success in another way. All of this has helped me maintain hope which maintains the search. Someone somewhere knows something. I just have to find that someone.”

Part II continues on Wednesday.


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