Monday, September 03, 2007

9/3/07 Aging Persons with Alzheimer’s and Dementia: What You Should Know, Part I

Aging Persons with Alzheimer’s and Dementia Increase Missing Person Statistics (Part I)

By Kelly Jolkowski

Two Families in Limbo

The families of Byron Freeman and Shirley Hunt are just two of thousands who unfortunately, can now count their missing loved ones among the statistics.

Lauris Freeman, nephew of Byron, has acted as his family’s advocate and spokesperson since Byron’s mysterious disappearance on June 24th, 2006. “Ironically my first inclination was not to panic or fear the worst because you have no reason to believe that anything bad has happened, i.e., maybe he’s just lost, wandering around, confused, etc. But as more time passes you start running different scenarios through your head about all types of things from foul play to amnesia, abduction and basically everything else we see on television crime shows. Once you accept the fact that your loved one is missing I think the biggest fear is that they will never be found. Unfortunately for our family, that is currently the case.”

Lauris described what the family knows about Bryon’s disappearance: “Every summer Byron would drive from his home in California to attend a high school reunion held in Palestine, Texas. He had done this for a decade, and he usually stayed a week or two to visit family and friends before returning home. The day he went missing, he was to attend a picnic that was held about 5 miles from where he was staying with a friend. Driving alone, he followed another car (driven by a family friend) to the picnic site but apparently kept on driving past the exit. The rental car he was driving was found on the side of the highway some 100 miles away, out of gas, windows down, and keys in the ignition.

At about 11 PM, a Wal-Mart truck driver (the highway is a well-traveled truck route) reported seeing a man who fit my uncle’s description walking down the shoulder of the highway, telephoned the local Sheriff but did not pick the man up. A Sheriff’s deputy arrived to the rental car around 12 AM but at that time had no knowledge (since the car was found in a different county) of a missing person.

Subsequently, the two Sheriff’s agencies from both counties would connect the dots and after impounding and searching the rental car found no signs of struggle or foul play.

When we were informed by a friend of my uncle’s that he did not show up at the picnic our first step was to call local authorities who then issued an APB for him. For the first 48 hours or so we (calling from California) were on the phone regularly with the local Sheriff’s agencies as they tried to locate my uncle. As it was a weekend (the picnic was Saturday) we were hoping that something would turn up on Monday when townsfolk would be returning to work and increase the possibility of a sighting if my uncle was wandering the streets. “

Before Alzheimer’s changed her life, Shirley Hunt was known as a very active, enthusiastic woman who was very involved in her family, church, and community. She was always doing something for other people. Shirley also liked to take walks along the country roads near her Henderson, TX home. On June 19th, 2007, it would appear that Shirley decided to take one of her walks.

Within 15 minutes, her husband, Bobby, and daughter, Kim, who had stepped out into the back yard, realized she was gone. They searched in the usual places she walked without finding her, and then called the Sheriff's Department. A deputy was on the scene in about 5 or 10 minutes. The initial search was conducted by the Rusk County Sheriff's Office. The Henderson Rescue Unit took over on around the 4th day, and concluded on the 6th day. There were about 6 days of intense searching in the area where Shirley disappeared, including mounted searches and tracking dogs. Hundreds of volunteers turned out to help, but they still found no trace of Shirley. Bobby Hunt came home without his wife for the first time in 51 years.

Both families echo the need for resources being provided to them immediately. “I think a list of all agencies that will help find a loved one would be very helpful.” stated Bobby Hunt. “Just learning about the staggering number of unsolved missing person’s cases blew me away, in the hundred thousands if not more. That and the fact that at least in California there is virtually no formal support beyond law enforcement whose resources are very limited. It’s sort of a free-for-all for families. If it weren’t for organizations like Project Jason, The National Center for Missing Adults, Texas Equusearch, the Carole Sund-Carrington Foundation and a host of other extremely dedicated (and mostly) volunteer groups, most average income families would be left grasping at straws.” said Lauris.

They are right. It is rarely a part of procedure when taking a missing persons case that law enforcement gives resources to families. Project Jason is working on changing that by passing legislation in each state that would mandate this logical step. (Campaign for the Missing)

Go to Part II


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