Monday, October 31, 2005

10/31/05 Trick or Treat?

With the exception of my next special post, regular posts may be delayed as Halloween gremlins in the form of malicious and very high level trojans have invaded my old PC. I was just about to transfer all of my email and other files to the new laptop, when this nasty trojan decided to pay a visit. I don't dare transfer files until I get rid of it because I wouldn't want to infect two computers. So, my extra time as of late has been spent trying to eradicate the little devil.

I'm hoping that I will be able to share some good news very soon, and that will be the "treat".

Saturday, October 29, 2005

10/29/05 The Cold Case King Part II

We continue our interview with Gerald Nance, Senior Cold Case Manager with NCMEC:

What suggestions do you have for families of long term missing in as far as the search, dealing with the waiting, and the "not knowing"?

Almost every family I deal with says the “not knowing” is the worst part of the ordeal, over and above what they feel is inadequate police response, family response and all other associated responses. I am not a psychologist, but in my experience, what is happening to these families is one, two or all members start to live in what I call a schizophrenic house. Real psychologists will tell you this is impossible, but what they mean is it is impossible to do it well.

By a schizophrenic house, at least one member, usually the mother, but many times both mom and dad, exist with one foot in the world on the day the child disappeared, and the second foot in the here and now. The foot in the “day it happened” is what throws them. The “day it happened” world suggests that all time stops and will not begin again until the child is back in the house being the same age as when he disappeared, and then life can restart. The second foot in the “here and now” is with the remaining family members, siblings, etc who continue to grow, mature, graduate, get jobs, get married, and begin to have kids.

One thing I am certain of, sooner or later there will be a breakdown and one has to choose where both feet are planted or events will choose it for them. I think the families who have been able to move forward are the ones who left behind the world the day their world ended. Don’t get me wrong, they grieve, they ache, they still wait, but they have allowed life to go on for the rest of the family to allow themselves some joy in the life and times of the siblings, and the grandchildren.

The saddest thing I see are the ones who have one (or worse both) foot back in the day it happened. Some way, you must grow and watch the others grow. These are also the families who have turned their grief into action groups, lobbying for better laws, better training for police, etc.

A “Schizophrenic house” definitely exists in many families of the missing. I know this even from my own experience. I had a huge jolt into the “here and now” when I received in the mail the age progression photos of Jason. I ignored the letter that explains not to view the photographs when you are alone. I clearly remember laughing, yes laughing, as I viewed the photo for the first time. “This is not MY son”, I said to myself. He was forever ingrained in my mind as what he looked like in the photos from his high school graduation you see in many places on the Internet. (He looked like that on 6/13/01.)

As that evening wore on, I stepped out of the “day it happened” as I started to realize that I no longer was looking for the teenage Jason, but a young adult Jason, a man. Would I even recognize him if I saw him? I am sure I would. When I understood that I now had to look for this stranger in the photo, then the tears came. That was a tough transition, but a necessary one.

How effective/useful are the age progression photos? Can you tell any success stories about those?

Age progression images are effective for long term cases, particularly if the case involves the abduction of an infant or very young toddler. Cases involving infants and young toddlers are usually committed by a person who seeking to have a child, not harm a child but the problem is, the child grows up believing that she is who the abductor tells her she is.

It is difficult to age enhance or progress a child under the age of three because the features are not clearly defined, but what is successful is doing an age composite. This is the process where a photograph of the mother and father at the age you want the child progressed to, is provided to the artist and he simply takes half from the mom and half from the dad.

For other cases, I do recommend continued age progressions and I continue to monitor the distribution of those posters. It is what the Center does best, and there is always a chance someone will see the poster and call to provide information. It is a way of keeping that case alive in the eyes of the public.

Some of the successes I personally have had with age progression is people seeing the poster, call in with significant information to provide to the police. Remember, that is my primary goal, generating solid information for the police to act on.

Vinyette Teague, abducted as a toddler from her home in Chicago,age progressed to 19.

If your missing loved one is registered with NCMEC, he/she qualifies for a free age progression done at appropriate intervals. Call your NCMEC Case Manager to start this process. For a more effective age progression, supply photos of the biological parents of the missing person taken at the current age of the missing person. If your missing loved one is not registered with NCMEC, (all missing persons under the age of 21 should be) contact Project Edan, who will also provide a free age progression.

What about DNA and the new initiative to get DNA of the family members in CODIS? Can you tell us about that and how families go about doing that?

CODIS is the Combined DNA Index System and it is set up in four parts. Imagine a cross. On the upright beam at either end, sits a database. One end has the offender database and contains all the DNA profiles taken from prisoners and in some states, people who are arrested. On the other end is a database that has all the DNA evidence from unsolved cases. Once a week, these databases are compared and a “cold hit” might develop. A “cold hit” happens when DNA evidence from an unsolved crime is matched with someone in the prison population.

On the cross beam are two other databases, one has DNA from missing persons or families of missing persons, the other end has the DNA taken from Unidentified remains of deceased and unknown living (amnesia victims, elderly suffering from dementia) and those databases are scanned once a week as well. The databases are separate from the Unsolved and Known Offenders.

There are several ways a family can contribute to the database of missing persons. One is to contact the local FBI office and sign a wavier. The FBI will then take a blood spot sample (simple prick on the finger) and send it to their lab and it will be profiled.

If the missing is a person under 21 and the parents are willing, contact NCMEC and request a wavier. We will mail you a wavier and send a buccal swab kit (cotton swab for the inside of the cheek) to the police department in your community. An officer must be the one to take the swab. Your swab is sent to the University of North Texas Health Science Center and the swab will be profiled and entered into CODIS. The reason the FBI requires a blood spot and the other uses buccal swabs is the equipment at the lab. The FBI’s lab uses blood spot, the other doesn’t. Both are reliable methods of securing DNA.

Important note to all families of the missing: If your missing loved one has been gone for more than 30 days, and you do not have anything of theirs for to process for DNA, you may get your own (or other appropriate family member) DNA processed FREE of charge and entered into CODIS by the DNA lab. (Even if you do not live in the same state as where the person went missing, you can still do this.) Contact the LE handling the case. If the person is over age 20, have them contact the National Center for Missing Adults at 1-800-690-FIND for instructions. If the missing person is under age 21, have call NCMEC at 1-800-THE LOST. If your LE refuses to do this, call these organizations directly for assistance.

In an ideal case where both parents are available, we need one sample from dad and two from mom. The reason is there are two types of DNA, nuclear and mitochondria DNA or mtDNA. Both can be used for identification. To visualize this, imagine a fried egg. The yolk of the egg is the nuclear DNA. It is what makes you a unique person. Unless you have an identical twin, no one else will have the same nuclear DNA as you. You get half of this from dad and half from mom. It is a form of positive identification, and is relatively inexpensive to profile.

The problem with nuclear DNA is it is not indestructible. Time and the post mortem changes will eventually degrade the nuclear DNA. To compensate for this, the other DNA (the white part of the fried egg) is mtDNA and this can be used. The mtDNA only comes from the maternal bloodline, all of the mtDNA of the sperm is in the tail of the sperm which breaks off when the sperm head hits the egg, so none of dad’s mtDNA stays. MtDNA is very hearty, mtDNA has been found and profiled from bones of Roman Soldiers from before the time of Christ.

The problem with mtDNA is it is not a form of positive identification, it is used in what we call an exclusionary or presumptive identification, because it is not uniquely you. You have the same mtDNA as your mother, grandmother, siblings, etc. It is also far more expensive to profile, but it is good enough to allow the coroner or medical examiner to issue a death certificate and release the remains to family.

As science goes forward and more and more is learned about genetics, one day DNA will be the gold standard for all identifications, but today it is not. Most identifications are made by visual examination from a family member, fingerprints and dental records. For a family to have a complete package, DNA in CODIS certainly ensures that the search for your child will continue after you are gone, but in a practical sense, having fingerprints and dental records close at hand are also good things to have.

What suggestions do you give to families who have troubles communicating with law enforcement?

I could write a book on this topic, so I will try to condense it. Very few families I deal with feel that Law Enforcement has done an acceptable job. Some of this is due to one fact, their child is still missing, others have legitimate beefs with how their case was handled. Here are some suggested strategies in dealing with law enforcement:

First, remember that most in law enforcement have families and have the same fears and concerns as other families. It is very difficult to relate information to anxious parents when there is nothing to relate. First rule, cut them a little slack, but not much. It is their job, hard as it can be at times.

Second, remember that most investigators work on percentages. That means when you report your child missing without any facts to suggest otherwise, most cops will mentally compute that over 96% of missing children cases are either runaways, or kids who have overstayed at one place and almost 96% of that group resolves itself in a few days. This is very difficult if the child has run away in the past. In some states, it is not a crime to be a runaway, so if a child is reported missing, is entered into NCIC as required and a file is started, the police have done about all they will do unless information is developed early on that the child is endangered.

Third, don’t just report the child as missing, ask the officer questions. Remember the responding officer is not necessarily the one who will work the case. Ask who will be working it, how to contact him or her, and then contact them. Become a face not a case. Some investigators might feel you are a burden, but this is your child, not hers and you have rights to be a part of the case up to a point, and you have to exercise that right, left alone, you may not hear anything for a while.

This next one is the toughest. What if there is information to suggest the child has been harmed, who do they go after first? The family. Why? History has shown that “stranger” murder of a child is very rare, less than one percent of the cases. Most children are harmed by a member of the family, or extended family and friends of the family. Going to you first is not the same as accusing you. It is just the police need to quickly eliminate what has proven to be the answer to so many cases so they then can move on. Despite the upset to the family, since the case of Susan Smith, procedure will dictate some investigation of the family. The longer you do not cooperate, the further behind the police get. Cooperate fully so they can move on.

The final word in bad communication: If you do not like the answers (or non-answers) ask to speak to the supervisor. If you were in a store and had a complaint about a sales clerk, you would take it to the store manager. The same applies here. I am surprised when many families tell me about the treatment they get from the detective who have not thought about asking the questions of supervisors. If you are served by a Sheriff’s Office, it is even more in your favor to move your questions up the ladder, the Sheriff is an elected official and like most politicians they want to keep the voter satisified.

What suggestions do you give to families who have troubles getting media attention?

Media attention is a fickle thing that no one, except the media have control over. We want every case to get media, but few do. Accusations about media coverage have even suggested the media only wants to do blue eyed blonde haired princesses and if you look at the cases that have received a lot of National attention, you would get that impression.

Remember that the media wants not just a story, they want an impact. In these cases, the impact is fear. “How could that happen?” comes when someone takes a young girl from her bedroom at night when the parents are asleep a few rooms away. This is a fear factor. A child goes to a Laundromat, never arrives, never seen again: Not so much of a fear factor.

We send every case of a Non Family Abduction, or a Lost, Injured, or Missing child to the National media so they cannot say, I didn’t know, but only a few get attention because of the circumstances, not because there is a child missing.

(The National Center for Missing Adults also sends out press releases on each new case.)

To get the attention of the nation, you first have to grab the attention of the local media. The Public Information Officer of the Police Department can assist you with contacts. Remember, the majority of recoveries made are made because the media, ALL media, gets involved. They do make a difference, it is just their decision as to what to get involved and what not to, is what everyone is concerned about.

Do you have conversations with families about looking for their missing among the unidentified deceased? How do you approach this?

I approach the families about searching the unidentified remains cases by simply telling them the truth in the softest way I can. I tell them that my unit searches for their child on both sides of the curtain, one we will continue the previous search methods of posters, databases, etc because we will, but part of what we do that is different is to search through the deceased. I make no assumptions, and I tell them I don’t, that the child is alive or dead, we are just expanding what has been done in the past to include all possibilities. I need to explain this to all the families since part of what I want them to do is to contribute DNA profiles to CODIS, and there is no way of getting around the fact that the CODIS profiles are only compared with samples from mostly deceased persons.

I recommend that all families of missing persons, particularly ones who have been gone for more than 6 months, delegate someone in the family, friend, or neighbor, to actively peruse Internet listings of deceased John or Jane Does. While there are organizations that do this, such as the Doe Network, someone who knows the missing loved one better may be able to spot a potential match in a Doe. This is not an activity that just anyone can do, but typically in a family, there will be someone able and willing to do it.

When should a family look into declaring their missing loved one legally dead? What are the ramifications of doing this in regards to their open case?

There comes a point in time in every long term case that a decision needs to be made to have the missing person declared legally dead. What does this mean and why is it needed? The decision is needed for one reason and one reason only, so the estate of the parents can be probated without having to deal with complex issues as if that child were to walk in the door as the will is being read. It is only needed for that purpose and has no impact on whether or not the person is alive. It has no impact on the case, nothing we do will stop because of a legal declaration of death; it means nothing to us and should only mean to the parents that their estate will not have to deal with complications.

I counsel parents about this a lot, many feel they are admitting to the world their loved one is deceased and that means no one will continue the search. It is only an admission that time moves on, the parents grow old, and there may not be an answer before they pass.

This only needs to be dealt with as a legal issue, not a medical or investigative one.

Was there a case you worked with that you can discuss that was very difficult for you?

All are difficult in different ways. I have to, especially with the unidentifieds, separate what I see from what I could think if I let myself wander. I worked death cases and homicides for most of the 26 years I was an active investigator and you never get used to it, but you can develop compartments in your mind with firewalls to prevent what you see from having a negative effect on you and your relationships.

I did, however, have a major adjustment in coming here. In my previous job, almost 95% of my cases involved adults. Adult murders are different because in most cases, the victim was in some kind of risky behavior that led directly or indirectly to the death. No one deserves to die, but the term “innocent victim” is sparingly used when dealing with adults. Most of the child deaths were handled by our Domestic Violence Units because most were a result of some domestic issue, so my experience with child deaths was somewhat limited. Now I am working all child deaths, no adults. All children are innocent victims and a society that cannot protect its very young or its very old is not much of a society. I had to redefine and fine tune those compartments.

I found the discussion about “compartments interesting. I think that we, as families of the missing, also have our own set of compartments. I believe I have compartments to buffer the pain caused when thinking of the possibilities of Jason being dead and how he might have died. There are other compartments for dealing with the thought he may have left willingly and the set of emotions that come with that. Unless we have some type of internal buffers, how else could we deal with this ongoing trauma?

What gives you the most satisfaction about your work on a day to day basis?

I would like to say on a day to day basis, satisfaction comes from finding someone or identifying someone, but the fact is, that is the saddest part of my job, and if it were to happen on a daily basis, I don’t think I would still be here. While finding someone who is no longer living or identifying someone as their child brings a chapter in a book to an end, in my mind, there is no such thing as closure.

Closure means an end, and while the immediate issue of not knowing what happened is closed, the door opens on “who did this” and seeking justice.

A word about “closure”: Closure seems to be a pet word of the media. As Jerry says, there really is no closure. In Jerry’s example, it is just a new part of the journey. Even if a missing person is found, there are emotional and other adjustments to be made and various feelings to sort out. Once you have a missing person in your life, nothing is ever “normal” again, therefore no closure. Most families of the missing prefer to use the word “answers”, or something similar.

In many cases I have, the manner of death is undetermined which means we don’t know what happened. During the post mortem changes, signs of violence to the body disappear, and unless it was blunt force trauma or gunshot, most of the bodies we identify have no signs of violence. This is particularly frustrating, because of the age, it is obviously that old age and disease didn’t kill them, someone had them in the woods, on the lake, whatever, but courts deal in what can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

The only real satisfaction I have on a daily basis is working with the victim families. A lot of times, our conversations are not about the child, but about how they are coping and what is going on with them. I like to believe it is of some comfort to them that someone is continuing the search for their child.

And here I concur with Jerry. Talking with families of the missing gives me satisfaction as I feel our conversation has given them comfort at a deep level. We do not often get the good news that someone was found safe, so our success must be measured in any positive feelings we can instill in the family members we serve.

Yesterday, I said I would comment on the section that stated: “More education, training and laws need to be in place to make any missing person, adult or child, a case to be worked as a priority case until such time, a decision based on facts, can be made.”

The Department of Justice has drafted a state law that covers all aspects of a missing person’s case, including responding and DNA matters. It would be up to a person or persons in their own state to get a senator to sponsor this law and attempt to get it passed. It merits reading and strong consideration for those of you who are activists. As this is too lengthy for this post, I encourage you to read the synopsis and then the full text of the proposed law here

Once again, I want to thank Jerry for taking time from his busy schedule to talk to us. Jerry, may you be blessed with a strong body and sound mind so that you can continue to be the “Cold Case King” for many years to come.

Friday, October 28, 2005

10/28/05 The Cold Case King Part I

I met Gerald Nance in October 2003 in Rochester, NY at my initial TEAM Hope training. I remember that close to the end of the training, we all went out to dinner together. I was fortunate to have chosen the table where Jerry was seated. It didn’t take long for us to realize that Jerry was a virtual fountain of information about the missing. I think some of us sat in stunned silence, just trying to take in the vast amount of information he was disseminating, and this was just conversational!

I didn’t lose touch with Jerry after that. He helped me with various resources as I was starting up Project Jason. He was there with an encouraging word and good advice, not just for my personal situation, but for others, too. He helped me with a better understanding of the processes and with services that are available from NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) for the missing person’s cases that fall within the age range to qualify under Suzanne’s Law. (I will give be speaking in greater detail about this in a future post.)

When I started up the blog, I knew I wanted Jerry to participate in an interview. Even though he is very busy helping with the Hurricane Katrina situation, he took quite a bit of time to respond to my questions. His knowledge, care, concern, and great passion for the missing are why I call him the “Cold Case King”. Thank you, Jerry, and may you be blessed abundantly for all you do for all of us and our cause.

(In the interview, my questions and/or comments are in blue.)

Tell us about your background and whatever personal info you feel comfortable sharing.

I am a native of Washington DC. My first profession was as a high school teacher and football coach. I left teaching to join the US Marine Corps during Vietnam and served as an infantry officer through a tour in Vietnam, Camp Lejeune, NC, and Marine Corp Recruit Depot, Parris Island.

I intended to return to teaching following my time in the service, but ended up becoming a Special Agent with the Office of Naval Intelligence/Naval Investigative Service, later to be changed to the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service. I served 26 years as a criminal investigator specializing in crimes of violence. I spent the last five years developing and supervising the NCIS “Cold Case” Squad.

As my time was closing in on mandatory retirement, I talked with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children who were interested in establishing a unit for long term missing cases and unidentified persons. When I got the call from Ben Ermini saying come on over, I retired on a Thursday and started as a Case Manager the following Monday. I have been married for 35 years; have one daughter, one granddaughter, and another grandchild on the way.

How long have you worked for NCMEC, and what various positions have you held?

I have been working for NCMEC for seven years, starting as a Case Manager and now a Senior Case Manager.

What is your current title and job duties? What is a typical day like?

I am the Senior Case Manager for the Special Case Unit. The Unit handles all the long term missing and cases of unidentified remains of persons who are believed to be juveniles or young adults. Recently, the Unit has taken on additional responsibility in establishing a serial child offender database, DNA registration for the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), and child homicides. A typical day is a mixture of all the tasks and assignments, but primarily focused on cases of long term missing.

You recently helped with the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Can you describe what you did?

On September 1, 2005, the Center ceased all normal operations to focus on family reunifications following Katrina and then Rita. Case Managers, like me, along with about 100 Team Adam Consultants and Project ALERT Volunteers have fielded over 30,000 calls involving missing persons, adult and children. The adult cases were referred to the National Center for Missing Adults and the cases involving children remained here. Unlike a “normal case” these cases are mostly attempting to rejoin kids with the PROPER guardian. It is a tough haul and much more needs to be done.

In October, I broke off the reunification efforts to assist the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams (DMORT) and the coroners with identifications of unknown deceased. Fortunately, the numbers are not even close to what was first feared, but much needs to be done with what we have.

Do you have any statistics on how many long term missing persons cases exist? How do we define long term?

There are no statistics on how many long-term missing cases are out there. I currently have 410 cases of missing children, the oldest goes back to 1944 and the most recent is 1999. Not a week goes by that I do not get calls from Police and Sheriffs saying so and so disappeared in 1985 what can we do about it and I intake that case. What defines a long term case is not necessarily time, it is information. No matter how old a case might be, if information is still being generated, the case is still active. Only when all activity on a case ceases, does another Case Manager recommend the case come to me.

Do you think attitudes about missing persons were different many years ago before there were any assisting organizations? (Some of the longer term families I've run into seem to feel like that they should respect the person's decision to leave and based upon that, should not look for them.) Do you think there are more missing persons now than back then in relation to the overall population, or are we just more aware of them?

Attitudes have definitely changed. You can almost draw a line between the pre Adam Walsh days and the post Adam Walsh days. I am using him a the single example, but remember, there were over a dozen other cases that went alongside Adam’s case when John and Reve Walsh and other parents stalked the halls of Congress seeking new and better laws. When the laws were made (and there is still a need for more refinement as well as new laws), advocate organizations sprung up to support the law and see to it that others supported it as well.

I recall when I was growing up, if a kid decided to run away from home, he packed a bag, lied about his age, joined the Navy and rarely looked back for a long time. This type of situation was rarely reported to the police, not that the police would have done anything even if it was reported. (For those of us who are older, remember the bandana on a stick? Yes, I had one, packed it with clothes, and walked down the street. It was not done in any seriousness, however.)

The big issue today is a balance of the rights of an adult to disappear from sight and begin life anew. While this does happen, my experience is the majority of adults who disappear, disappear as a result of foul play and a lot of time is wasted by no one looking into the disappearance at the time when it might have made a difference. More education, training and laws need to be in place to make any missing person, adult or child, a case to be worked as a priority case until such time, a decision based on facts, can be made. (I will make coments about this at the end of the story.)

Most of the European countries and other countries around the world do it this way, why not us? Is my right to live in a cave any greater than my family’s right to peace of mind? I think this also answers the question, are there more missing persons now than before. I think there is more reporting of the missing. Obviously as population grows, so do numbers, but proportionately, I think we are the same now as always, just better and required reporting. (I would like to find a researcher who is interested in finding out about laws and assistance in European countries.)

What is the most challenging thing for you in dealing with the longer term cases?

The most challenging part of dealing with the longer term missing is to work with the police as they act on information. Part of the problem is not that the police ignore the case, but it is partly that there is no information to do anything with and they do not have the resources to generate information. It is my job to develop information that is solid enough to motivate the police into a response. I have only come across a very few departments that once given solid information, have declined to respond to it.

Can you share any success stories so that families with a long term missing person know there is hope?

The elephant that is in that very room when I talk with family members is what I term the “death factor”. Is my child alive or dead, what are the chances? To be truthful, I ignore the death factor and do not bring it up unless the family wants to discuss it. There are several reasons for my avoiding the issue, the most important one is we have had success in finding children alive after 25 to 30 years. I will not destroy anyone’s hope in finding their child alive, but remember, this is not the norm. Most of the ones we find are deceased or have been for many years and remained unidentified for a variety of reasons, but no matter what the circumstances, there is always room for hope.

To be continued........................

Thursday, October 27, 2005

10/27/05 Coming up on Friday and Saturday

Sometime on Friday, we'll begin a series based upon an interview with NCMEC's Senior Cold Case Manager, Gerald Nance.

Jerry and I will discuss issues such as DNA, dealing with law enforcement, emotional issues that impact families of the missing, and other related topics.

With several decades of experience behind him, I know you'll find this interview enlightening. For those of you with missing loved ones, there will be answers presented that will be of great value for you.

We'll be back with the "Cold Case King".

10/27/05 The Birth of an Organization

It’s not easy to start a nonprofit organization. I started Project Jason with a $15.95 book, a truckload of determination, and a few friends and family members to help. I shared with you in another story that we had no money up to a day before we were to open our bank account, and how, at the last minute, an unexpected donation came, which was exactly the right amount for the bank account.

Next, we needed money for the IRS application. I had no idea how or where we were going to get it. Donations are not tax deductible when you are not a 501 (c) 3, making this a catch-22 situation. In Nebraska, persons could donate, but we had to make sure they knew that if our nonprofit status was denied by the IRS, then they would never be able to deduct it. If approved, it was retro back to the date of our state incorporation, and would then qualify as tax deductible.

One day a woman at work who knew what we were trying to accomplish, was asking me questions about the start-up. She asked me how much the IRS fee was. I thought she was just asking out of curiosity. She went back to her desk and I went back to work. It wasn’t but a few minutes later when she reappeared at my desk. I thought perhaps she had more questions. Instead, she handed me a check for the amount of the IRS fee! I was so overcome with emotion that I could barely get the words out to thank her. I even had to take a short break to collect myself. We had barely begun our journey with Project Jason, and we had already had two little miracles. Surely it was a sign from above that we were to continue.

Many months ago, I started conversations with a woman from Tennessee by the name of Shelley Brown. I knew of Shelley through a mutual friend of ours, Carol, (the same one mentioned in her story) so in some ways, it was as if we’d known each other for a long time. Shelley was trying to start a nonprofit in her state. We had several conversations about this, and I helped her with all that I knew about it. Shelley’s main problem, like mine, was lack of start-up funding. She certainly had the desire and the passion for our cause.

Many of the smaller nonprofits like Project Jason, were started by someone who had or has a missing person in their own life. Shelley is one of those people who have it in their heart and soul because of a personal situation. I’m going to let Shelley tell you her story.

It begins:

“Looking back, I realize now that Super Bowl Sunday 2003, was a day that changed my life forever. I will never be the person I was when I woke up that morning, ever again. When I finally went back to bed 3 days later, I was a changed person.

That afternoon my Grandson Dailen’s other Grammy called and said she needed to speak with my son, Mike. I could tell by the tone of her voice that something awful had happened. I told her that Mike had worked midnight shift the night before and was still asleep, but if it was important, I would wake him up. All she said was, “I think you need to wake him up, Shelley.” When Mike picked up the phone still half asleep and began listening, the color left his face and he looked instantly terrified. Dailen was missing. His mother and her boyfriend had left with him the night before, had taken all their belongings and her mothers car, and left. He was a little less than a month away from his 3rd birthday. She asked that we come to her house so we could talk this through, try to figure it all out, and figure out what to do next.

We sat at her house for hours talking, crying, and trying to pull ourselves
together, so that possibly our heads would clear and we could think of what to do. The police were called, and we were told that since she was his mother, and over 21, that she had the right to do whatever she wanted to do, she could come and go as she pleased, this is a free country. So, no help from the police. It was up to us to find him.

Two days later she called Mike and told him that she was at her grandmother’s
in Arkansas, and just needed some time away. She and her mom weren’t getting along, and she had some thinking to do. She said in that conversation that they would be gone 1-2 weeks. She and Mike spoke every couple of days and she promised that they would be back in time for Dailen’s 3rd birthday. She continually told Mike what a great father he was, said she couldn’t have picked a better father for Dailen, and this had nothing to do with him—it was her mother that was the problem.

Three weeks after she left, she was arrested for DUI, driving on a suspended
license, and auto theft, which Arkansas police bumped to a grand theft auto charge, since she had taken the car into another state. She called our house at 3 in the morning, collect from jail, ranting and raving at Mike for having her arrested. Mike had nothing to do with it, but in her mind he had somehow found out she would be driving at midnight on that specific night, on that specific highway, and had called the police. She was given a $5,000.00 bond, and a family member bailed her out the following morning. She and Mike spoke again on the phone and she said she was on her way to get her income tax done and get an instant refund, and would be home by Friday-Dailens birthday. No one spoke to her again until June. They simply disappeared.

No word was received from her until the end of June. She called from a hotel in Tampa, Florida, and said that Dailen was very happy, had adjusted well to the move, and that they were in a hotel on vacation. She said she had decided not to come back. I should mention that she called her Mom’s and spoke to her brother, this being retold to Mike. We were all crushed by this conversation, our hope once again dashed that he would be coming home soon.

During the months he was missing we did what we could to locate them. We had virtually no support until August when I joined a web based missing children’s org. One of the ladies there offered me endless support. If I got online at 2 in the morning she would be sitting there with her IM on. If not for her, I would not have made it through. Her name is Carol, and she was my guardian angel through the rest of the process.

Finally in November, Dailen’s mother called her mother, and told her she wanted to come home. Things had to be worked out financially to get them home and on the following Sunday (the Sunday before Thanksgiving) he was at long last HOME !!

During the time he was missing we all worried that he would not remember his
Daddy when he came home. Our prayers were answered when Dailen got out of the car, walked up the driveway, stopped in his tracks and said “Mommy, there’s my DADDY !“ They ran across the yard toward each other and hugged and hugged. It was wonderful to see the two of them finally back together. He wanted to come home with us, and he did.

When we got him home, he ran to his toys and had forgotten all the things he had gotten just a couple weeks before they left, for Christmas. He went through
them one by one asking if each item was his. When they came home, all he had was 2 shirts, a pair of pants, a pair of shorts, shoes, and a little wooden car that Mommy found at the beach, that he had painted yellow with a magic marker. So, I guess his toys at home seemed like a whole toy store to him.

Every day since November 23, 2003 has been a gift to all of us. Having him missing was the worst nightmare of our lives. The not knowing was so frustrating, the fact that he was only 3, and out there somewhere with two drug addicts was nothing short of terrifying.

After some time had passed following his return, I started realizing that this was one of the things in life that not everyone goes through, and not having anyone to talk to about it who totally understood the fear, the broken heart, nightmares, and sheer agony that one goes through, made it even harder to deal with. This ordeal changes who you are, how you feel about a lot of things, and certainly makes you look at life with a whole new perspective. So I started volunteering with the org. that had helped me.

After a time I started realizing that there were many, many families in my own state that were now going through what we did, and felt I was called to help people here in Tennessee. I left this organization and began working on setting up a Tennessee based site. Our site went up on May 1, 2005.

There are still some kinks to be worked out as far as the website goes, but, it is there with all names listed, stories about each person, etc. It is my goal, and the goal of all who joined with me to not separate people into categories. I don’t think it matters if a teen ran away, or was abducted. It certainly does not matter if a child was abducted by a stranger or by a parent. Missing adults are often ignored on other sites, they are important to us too. We all agree that a missing child is a missing child. One day we hope to have our non profit status, so that we will be able to do much more for the families, but in the meantime we do what we can and do it wholeheartedly.

I have been so blessed to have a great little group of dedicated people join with me in the mission to help these families. Each for his or her own reason, and all with goals they would like to see achieved through our group. None of us are afraid to ask questions, call a stranger, or reach out to someone who needs us. We would like to become the state clearinghouse for Tennessee someday, and as with all things this will come in its own time. If we work at it everyday, this will become the organization we all envision. I feel that we will see our goals achieved one at a time, and we are all excited about the possibilities the future holds for us.”

Shelley and her family were among the fortunate ones who recover their missing loved one in under a year, although I am sure to them, it seemed like eternity. As she states, we are never the same again, regardless of the outcome of our stories.

When I started my blog, and after another one of our conversations about the start-up of her organization, I told Shelley that I wanted to tell her story. What’s more, I told her that I felt strongly about helping her in some way, just like the “earth angels” helped me. My hope is that a reader or readers out there would be willing to help Shelley with their start up costs, knowing that it may not be tax deductible. The rules in TN are tougher than in NE, so they are not allowed to do any fundraising at all, prior to obtaining their IRS approval. They will need a private donor(s) to help them with the start-up fees, which is $325.

In case anyone is wondering, I have no intention of making this blog become a donation request mechanism, but sometimes something (or someone) comes along, and you just know in your heart that it is the right thing to do. I knew from the beginnings of our conversations that I must try to do this for Shelley and for families of the missing in TN. As I have been blessed, I must find a way to return what was given to me, even if indirectly.

When, not if, Shelley gets this nonprofit off the ground, the benefit for families of the missing in TN will be tremendous. Every state needs an organization like Project Jason or like Tennessee Alliance for Families of the Missing. Every state needs people who care and who have been there to help these families.

The Mission Statement for Tennessee Alliance for Families of the Missing is:

“Tennessee Alliance forms a strong alliance with families of the missing in the state of Tennessee and ensures that these families have resources available to aid in efforts made to locate their missing loved ones.

Tennessee Alliance will provide fliers of missing persons along with resources to families, including information about awareness events, fundraising, and benefits that may be available from other agencies. Support will be provided via an email group, online chats, and forums made available for each child or adult. By forming this alliance with the families of the missing, we will bring awareness to the plight of these families, and effect change in state laws regarding the safety of our loved ones.

With the help of government and law enforcement agencies, Tennessee Alliance will be a primary organization in which families of the missing, federal, state and local governments, can rely upon for assistance when any person, child or adult, becomes missing in the State of Tennessee. “

Some of our readers may be interested to know that Kathy Holloway, mother of missing Jennifer Wix, and grandmother to missing Adrianna Wix, featured in a story here, is also a founding member of TN Alliance.

Please visit their website:

You may write to Shelley Brown at

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

10/26/05 Stop and Smell the Roses

Brandy Shipp never stopped to smell the roses before her mother’s disappearance in December of 2004. She didn’t even like to garden. She was busy with her career.

Her mother, Summer Shipp, was last seen in Independence, MO doing door-to-door surveys. Her untouched car was found later on with her purse in the trunk. Closing in on a year later, Summer is still missing without a trace. Brandy now takes time to see the beauty in the things her mother loves. She hopes it is not too late to show her mother that she has slowed down. Brandy can only hope that her mother is still alive, trying to make her way back home.

Summer Shipp, the vibrant woman with the strawberry blonde hair and impish grin, found joy in the little pleasures of life. She loves her roses and her dogs. Her daughter remembers the conversations in which her mother tried to inspire her to stop and smell the roses:

“She would tell me, "Brandy, look at these roses that just bloomed!" and I would remark, "Oh yeah, they are great, but I have to get back to the office". But now, after 10 months since she vanished, I have been living at her house, and I have seen the roses bloom once, and then again and then again, and I realize what my Mother was speaking of. I can picture her watching her lovely dogs sniff the air. It’s the little things that she appreciated so very much. She has always been like that, but now that she is not here, I realize how important those little things are.”

This mother and daughter are very close. Christmas is not a huge holiday in their family, so last year, on a whim, the two of them went shopping in New Orleans.

“I called my mother a week before Christmas and I asked her if she would go to New Orleans with me and of course she said YES and we not only had a great time, but we found the most wonderful store going out of business, and I dragged my mom into it. (I thought they sold wine at that time---my Mom doesn’t drink.) In the store, we found the greatest tiles, yes, tiles, many, but not all of them broken. We proceeded to buy a bunch of tiles, and they are now are my kitchen wall. My Mother found all the good ones for me which was just weird, because I had a friend re-tiling my kitchen at the time.”

Summer would give her daughter a “payback” for the funny pranks she pulled, such as taking her into what she believed was a wine shop. Whenever they went out to eat, Summer would secretly tell the waiter that it was Brandy’s birthday, even though it was not. The waiter would never fail to bring out a slice of chocolate cake. To most of us, that would be wonderful, but Brandy did not like chocolate at all! Summer did, so she ate it. So, when you see that slight little smirk in Summer’s photos, you’ll remember her cleverness in playing pranks on Brandy. She is the mother who loves to make people laugh and smile.

She also has a generous side. Instead of wanting gifts for her birthday, she would give the people she loved gifts. “She is the most caring and trusting person in the world. My Mother is an amazing, joyful, well-liked and responsible woman! She is a homeowner and a businessperson. She spends her time thinking of how she can make a person laugh or smile and will go to great lengths to see a reaction. She finds joy in seeing others happy“, Brandy said.

An annual event shared by the mother-daughter duo was Thanksgiving with the homeless at the Salvation Army. Brandy remembers the funny and the serious side of this event:

“The Salvation Army "thing" that we do EVERY year on Thanksgiving Day is 'feeding the homeless', but it is so much more than that, because my Mother and I talk to the people there and we leave an impression. We are the people who actually care, and we like to get to know the homeless and everyone else there.

A few years ago, while my Mom and I were at the Salvation Army, there was news coverage. They filmed the people there getting their food and other things going on, but then the camera narrowed in on my rear end for more than 5 seconds. It was funny because the news reporter was talking, but the camera guy was focusing on my rear, and I was just standing there. I then put my hands in my back pockets and the thing that is funnier is that after seeing what they showed on the news, my best friend told me she saw my broken fingernail while they were scanning.

My Mother always wears “funky” aprons instead of the Salvation Army red one. It is funny because we attract so much attention anyway because of my big red hair and our presence. Last year, when my Mom and I were doing our thing, Mike Mahoney of Channel 9 interviewed me, and I said "I do this because it makes me happy to make people happy and..........." When I heard someone saw me on TV, I was so embarrassed, because on the actual newscast I said "…Happy to make people happy and that makes me happy to make people happy". Mom and I had a big laugh over that one.

But little did I know on Dec 10, I would be running from one TV Station to the next and not caring what I looked like. I was showing photos of my Mom because she was missing!”

The day Summer disappeared, Brandy was getting ready for the big Christmas Lunch at her workplace in which the “Secret Santas” were exposed. She was on her lunch break doing errands, when she received the phone call that her mother didn't show up for one of her jobs. Brandy recalls that frightening and life-altering day with clarity:

“I didn't really even register anything because my mother works for 12 different companies. My dad said to me: "Brandy, it's probably no big deal, but she didn’t show up for work one day." My Father is calming and realistic and rational. At this point, I didn’t think I needed any reassurance.

When it became clear that something was not right, I drove really fast to my Mother’s house and saw that her car was not there. I remember driving back to the office at about 100mph to get the keys to her house. When I got back to the office I was crying and saying "I am sure I am over-reacting, but it's my Mom". I was bawling, and I felt stupid, but nothing mattered. When I went back to her house with the keys, I realized the dog was in the house and had not been let out........”

Over the past 10 months, not only has Brandy’s life changed, but so has Brandy. She decided that she was not going to feel sorry for herself, and that she was going to be active in the ongoing search for her mom.

I can recall observing the efforts of Brandy to publicize her mother’s case. It was one of the more aggressive campaigns I had seen, which is necessary to get attention, especially in a missing adult case. Brandy wishes she had 24 hours a day to look for her mother. Still, she does quite well in arranging public events, and gaining local media attention. She meets weekly with the local police and other government officials. She has also attended events for other missing persons, even in other states. She wants to make a difference.

“Every day, for the rest of my life, will be devoted, in one way or another, to, not only my Mothers Case, but to many missing person’s cases. I want to, not only learn from others, but, I believe that I can help others and be an advocate.”

Brandy keeps busy in her work for her mom and others, but the fears that are certainly typical and expected are never far from her mind.

“I believe my mom was in the wrong place at the wrong time: A victim of opportunity. My greatest fear is that I will not be able to deal with reality, but actually that is not a fear. Many people, family or not, have their own ways of dealing with situations and this is such an unknown type of trauma. I always worried about my Mom. I want to believe my Mother is alive, and I don’t want to believe anything else until I have reason to. I know the odds and I have thought deeply about reality and that I might never see my Mother again.

I see her in my dreams. I try to log every dream I have involving my Mother, and you know what? She is always smiling, smirking, or laughing, and I think that it is a good thing. If I ever learn that she has felt any pain or suffering, I will ......., I don’t know what I would do.”

While waiting for the answer to the question Brandy poses: “Where is my mother, Summer Shipp?” she has taken up a new pastime:

“After seeing the roses bloom over and over, and seeing all the huge plants my mother has, I have realized how the little things in life are so touching. I have moved back to my house, and I am taking her plants with me to my house. I am doing all I can, and I will continue until my mom is found.

I can say that I have now smelled the roses outside my mom’s house, and there are a zillion plants that I am going to keep alive!”

Please take time to visit Summer’s Website:

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

10/25/05 Of Angels and Miracles

The 13th of the month marks the monthly anniversary of Jason’s disappearance. Many times on this day, something good happens. Sometimes it was something that would appear insignificant to others, and sometimes it was quite evident that the happening was a little miracle. We believe it is a reminder from God that we are not alone, and that He is pleased that we walk this path, even though it is rather rocky. We call it the “Miracle of the 13th”. I have already written about several of these miracles here, although I did not name them as such.

It had been quiet lately in this respect. We know that one does not ask for something like this, and the absence of it simply meant that we were being carried by faith. I can only guess that because of the quiet, God decided it was time for one to come in with a roar. It began with a post here called “A Brief Commercial Break”. In this post I spoke of purchasing a new cordless headset telephone. In mentioning one of the reasons we wanted to buy this type of phone, I stated that the computer we use belongs to us, not Project Jason, and that we all share it. I wrote in my typical detailed fashion, not even thinking that an earth angel would see one of our needs in my words.

I will call her “Mary”. She’s not the type of person who wants to be recognized for her good works. Mary reads my blog everyday. She prays for our family, for the families I write about, and for missing persons. She looks for a lesson in each story that can be applicable in her life. Mary and her family live a comfortable life, but they do not buy into the excessive need for things as some do. In fact, Mary’s family does something very unusual. They choose a charity and find out a need of that charity. As a family, they discuss this and decide upon a wish they can grant. They then give up things they could have bought for themselves and use other means to raise the money needed to grant the wish.

After Mary read my post, she wrote to me, telling me that she wanted to buy us a computer. I was so amazed and surprised that it took me until the evening to reply to her. I emailed my husband, telling him the incredible news. Could it be possible that someone we didn’t even know, a stranger to us, reading our story on the Internet, would be moved to do such a thing?

Over the course of several days, Mary and I corresponded. She told me that she wanted us to pick out a computer that met all of our needs and that would last for a long time. I researched pricing and carefully reflected upon those needs. I chose a Dell Inspiron 6000 laptop that included the software we only dreamed of having, such as slide presentation software and much better photo enhancement software than we’d had prior. My head spun, thinking of all the things we could do with it. Numerous educational slide presentations top the list. Also, at public events, we can show parents how to look up sex offenders in their own neighborhoods from Internet sources. We can run a slide show of the missing persons on the Adopt a Missing Person program, making it easier for people to understand the program and choose someone. I’ll be able to take this on Project Jason trips and better stay connected with the families we serve. Mary and I were both equally excited, thinking of all the possibilities, like two eager children on Christmas morning.

I gave Mary the final specs and she ordered it for us. She emailed me to let me know the order was placed. It was October 13th.

Mary and I are also working together on some other projects. One of these I will be announcing soon, and the other is a longer term project. Mary is encouraging me to post a wish list. This is hard for me to do, as I attended the school of “God will provide”, but I will do it at some point as there may be other angels out there who may have a desire to help.

The laptop has arrived and I am working to move the Project Jason related files to it from the old PC. I hope to complete this process this evening, and then I can start to work on learning the new programs. It is quite a transition from working on a standard PC to a laptop. I am trying to get used to the touch pad and the tapping sequences that replace mouse use. My son, Michael, is used to using a laptop at school, and he has been helping me with it.

Mary said she learns life lessons from my stories, but I learned one from her. I witnessed the true spirit of giving. While some may think of the gift in monetary terms, and as a possession, a physical item, so to speak, I see it as a vessel to continue to improve upon our fulfillment of the Project Jason Mission Statement:

“Our mission as a non profit organization is to create and increase public awareness of missing people through a variety of outreach and educational activities. Project Jason seeks to bring hope and assistance to families of the missing by providing resources and support.”

There is no price tag that can be placed on our work and its value. Thank you, Mary for being one of our angels and providing us with a Miracle of the 13th for everyone we serve.

Monday, October 24, 2005

10/24/05 Reminders

Don't forget to watch Joanna Rogers' segment on the Maury Show today.

Ryan Katcher's story in the Chicago Tribune was bumped this past Sunday. Hopefully, it will be in this Sunday's edition.

Due to technical problems, the Monday post was lost. I will repost sometime on Tuesday.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

10/23/05 Bravo Lincoln Journal Star

Today the Lincoln (NE) Journal Star published a story about Jason's Law being put into place, which mandated the Nebraska State Patrol to begin and maintain a missing person's clearinghouse. The clearinghouse will bring awareness to all missing person's cases in Nebraska, regardless of the age of the missing person. It will also faciliate communication between law enforcement agencies, media, and the public about these cases.

The article also told our story and the struggles of those who live in the not knowing. It summarizes our efforts to keep pounding the proverbial pavement of the general public, always looking for people who are willing to be our eyes and ears.

What was most remarkable to me, which is not known by reading the online version, is that this story ran on the main front page, and a LJS employee by the name of Matt Van Driest added a huge full color collage of some of the missing persons in Nebraska. This collage included age progressed photos as applicable and basic case information. Anyone who picked up the paper that day could not avoid noticing it.

Just think, if we could get other newspapers to do something like this, even if just occasionally, what an impact it might have. I won't be surprised if the State Patrol doesn't get quite a few calls from the public tomorrow about this. Perhaps these calls will all be inquiries, but perhaps some could be leads for any of Nebraska's missing, including my own son.

Bravo to the Lincoln Journal Star, the article's author, Gwen Tietgen, and Matt Van Driest. By the way, Gwen did a fantastic job interviewing me, and on writing the article. She has a sincere and keen interest in our cause.

I'm going to have to write a special newspaper media challenge now, as the LJS has raised the bar in going beyond just the story. They took it all the way. They could have just published the story and perhaps one or two photos, but they published the photos of all the missing persons who are currently on the State Patrol's website. I couldn't have asked for anything more.

Thank you, LJS!

(The Nebraska State patrol continues their work to institute Jason's Law.)

The article:
The NE State Missing Person's Clearinghouse:

Saturday, October 22, 2005

10/22/05 Something Wicked This Way Comes

Something to be feared is headed our way. I think we, as a country, have learned many lessons as of late, some coming too late, and costing us human lives.

Fear. Some say you can smell it. You can almost always see it registered on the faces of those whom experience it. Most will not be able to hide it, especially from the children, those sensitive and observant little beings.

Something else to be feared has already arrived some time ago. It is not a fear without basis, but it is a fear that may have been taken to an unwarranted level.

The approaching storm is a fearful thing, which will effect anyone and everything in its path. It is fueled by interactions between sea and sky, none of which can be controlled. The fearful thing which already exists is fueled by humans, numbers, and our interpretation of those numbers.

So many of us live in fear for our children because of the existence of sexual and other predators. Some say they won't let their children play outside because something might happen to them. Some will tell them "a bad man might take you" or even "you might get kidnapped".

The truth is, that in an average year, only a small percentage of non-family abductions occur. Out of the approximately 4,200, only 300 are strangers to the child. Out of the 850,000 new missing persons cases per year, many are resolved, leaving approximately 100,000 active cases on an ongoing basis.

While these numbers are still cause for concern, and certainly not to be ignored, I wonder about the cumulative effects of the fear of child predators on today's children.

Will they still be allowed to be children? How do we, as parents, balance our fears with providing a healthy life's outlook for our offspring? How do we instill a cautionary common sense in them without them seeing danger in every face and around every corner?

"Stranger Danger" used to be the catchphrase of the day and what we taught our children, but we have since learned the fallacy of that methodology. Situations and improper actions of others, including neighbors, relatives, and any other adult who may be in contact with our children, is now what must be taught in a matter of fact way. Children should also know the basic safety rules, which include the buddy system. This NCMEC brochure explains this concept.

In the same matter of fact way, we must gather the necessary information for a Personal ID Kit, which can be downloaded free at . Fingerprints and DNA need only be obtained once. Dental records can be updated when visiting the dentist, and photos can be kept current by parents without involving the child.

I like the way that child psychologist John Rosemond thinks. While I have not yet asked him, I am sure he would agree with me that we should not tell our children that the reason we need to prepare a kit for them is because they might be kidnapped. I believe we can simply state that the kit is done for the child's safety. We can mention that there are many people who leave home every year and who are then endangered. There are also many people whom we do not know what has happened to them, but we'll always keep looking for them.

The information in the kit is used in case a loved one becomes missing. Physical data and the photo aids in location and identification data is used to identify a body. (The latter need not be explained to younger children in my opinion.)

Adults: Don't forget this kit is for you, too. No one is immune to becoming a missing person.

Parents, feel free to comment on how you teach your child about these issues. Either place a comment on the blog, or send your comments to

How do you draw the line between protecting your children, and letting them be children?

Friday, October 21, 2005

10/21/05 Another Stolen Angel

Updated on 7/23/06: Julianna was found safe this week and has been reunitied with her mom!

Meet Julianna Kirk. Her birthday is October 29th, next Saturday, and she will be three years old.

She won't, however, get to celebrate the day with her mom. Will she even have a cake with candles and presents to open?

Her father took her on May 28, 2005 from Shertz, TX. There is a felony warrant out for his arrest. He, and a female companion, may be headed to Mexico, Indiana, or California. The car they were driving was found in Corpus Chisti, TX, driven by another man. It is not known if the man was related to the two in any way.

Her mother doesn't wish to divulge any details which could compromise the case, so little information is available at this time. She is grateful for any help she can get to find her little angel.

Julianna is on Project Jason's current 18 Wheel Angel campaign. You can download a poster of her and place it to help find her. A link to the poster can be found here:

Additional information and photos of the abductors are here:

Updates on other stories:

Ryan Katcher's story in the Chicago Tribune was moved from last Sunday to this coming Sunday, October 23rd.

Don't forget to see Joanna Rogers' story this Tuesday on the Maury Povich Show.

Saturday night, October 22 will bring us the 2nd national webcast of concerts for the missing put on by Jannel Rap and her organization. This concert will feature missing persons from the Midwest. Information on the webcast is at

Thursday, October 20, 2005

10/20/05 “We are Going to Find Erik”

That was stated to me in no uncertain terms by Robert Buran, father of kidnapped Erik Buran. A few nights ago, I spoke to Robert about Erik and his case into the wee hours of the night. Robert is not going to give up in his fight to find Erik, ever, and neither should we.

We first told the story of Erik in “The Cutest Little Boy”, originally posted on 9/26/05.

That evening, Erik’s website had 155 hits. Today it has 6,062 hits. That is a testament to our readers and everyone else who gave this little boy a place in their hearts. Thank you.

What follows is my interview with Robert, which will update you on the progress being made, and let you know how you can help, whether it’s for the first time, or if you did prior. Let’s bring the Cutest Little Boy home!

What has transpired since The Cutest Little Boy story came out on the blog?

Several things. First of all three more angels have come into my life. Their names are Kimberly, Stacey and Christine. All are volunteers with Erik’s beautiful angels calling themselves names he would love such as “Choochoomamma,” have done some amazing things. These amazing things have ranged from investigation of funding for a cash award for information leading to Erik’s recovery to getting Erik’s face on the home page of and blasting over 10,000 E-mails to every RV dealership in the country. Of course you will remember that Erik was kidnapped in a 1979 Jamboree Motor Home. These are really some high class, professional ladies who are putting all their talents and energy into bringing Erik back home. Their dedication and commitment humbles me.

Also I believe we may have broken the ice in Lyon County. Many letters have been received out there asking about Erik and I think those letters have had significant impact. I have received a written report from the lead investigator in Lyon County that suggests that much more is now being done to find Erik. We received one report that Erik may have at one time been in Mexico and possibly may still be in Mexico. Lyon County made arrangements to send investigators into Mexico to follow up on those reports. Also we are distributing posters in Mexico. That same lead investigator has also indicated that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is now officially involved with the case. The FBI will be assisting in interviewing persons who may know something of Erik’s condition and whereabouts.

As we have had many people pick up the cause for Erik and run with it, have you heard back from anyone we asked readers to write to, such as the Lyon County District Attorney and any media outlets?

As I indicated before I have received a report from the lead investigator in Lyon County. Brad Dennis of Klass Kids got us a spot on the Nancy Grace show but a high profile murder case bumped us. Nevertheless I believe we will still see Erik’s pictures on the Nancy Grace show shortly.

Why hasn't the Amber Alert been sounded?

An Amber Alert should have been sounded immediately and the folks at Klass Kids as well as many others agree with me on this point. Had an Amber Alert been sounded immediately in the Western States Erik would have recovered within days and would have never been placed in harms way.

But there is a dirty little secret about parent abductions. Law Enforcement hates these kinds of cases and will avoid taking them. They are expensive and labor intensive with regard to investigation. Although there is a law on the books requiring Law enforcement to take any missing persons report there are many ways law enforcement can avoid taking these cases and avoid competent investigation.

My Note: Federal law states that when requested, a missing person’s report must be taken on persons through the age of 20. Sadly, beyond that they can and do refuse in some jurisdictions.

I live in Washoe County and Erik’s mother abandoned her home in Lyon County when she kidnapped Erik. I immediately filed a missing persons report in Washoe County but when I attempted to file a missing child report in Lyon County I was given the form, but ejected from the Sheriff’s office and the door locked behind me. The Sheriff was so hostile I feared arrest if I filed the report. In fact a report was never filed in Lyon County and instead a report I had filed with the Reno Police Department had to be transferred out to Lyon County. That delayed the process nearly two weeks. The abductors already had a two-week head start because a Lyon County Sheriff had scared the hell out of me.

I immediately sent letters to both District Attorneys in Washoe County and Lyon County begging them to resolve the jurisdiction issues and get an arrest warrant out on the abductors “before the trail went cold”.

Lyon County finally issued a felony kidnapping warrant 8 weeks after the abduction. But first I had to get court orders from the family court in Washoe County. To its credit the Washoe family Court acted quickly and I was aided by the solid backing of the Washoe County Department of Child Protective Services who backed up my drug and alcohol abuse allegations.

But Amber Alerts are not normally issued 8 weeks after a kidnapping. In my opinion Lyon County had no interest in hearing about the dangers to my son immediately after the kidnapping and at a time when a meaningful amber alert could have been sounded. They have never interviewed me about the mother’s mental problems, violence or chemical abuse so how could they issue amber alert? They knew from the Washoe County missing person report that Karen had been arrested six times for violent behavior and that her boyfriend was abusing my son at the time of the kidnapping. Nevertheless they chose to take the view that this was a harmless family abduction and it did not qualify for an amber alert. I do not believe they ever considered amber alert for Erik.

(Please see
if you do not yet understand the ramifications to the child in cases of parental abduction.)

When six weeks after the kidnapping a Washoe County Judge issued a custody order saying Erik was at risk for “immediate harm” Lyon County Law Enforcement ignored that as well.

If anybody doubts the true intention of Lyon County law enforcement regarding this case they should examine the written statements of the Sheriff regarding an Amber Alert for Erik. The Sheriff wrote that amber alerts are not issued for parent abductions period.

I have filed protest letters with both the Lyon County Sheriff and the Governors Commission on Amber Alerts saying this interpretation runs contrary to the written guidelines published by that Commission. The Governor’s Commission has not yet issued a statement but they are evaluating my complaint and I believe they will render an objective decision. I have confidence in the professionalism of the Governor’s Commission.

Has this push made you feel hopeful for Erik?

I get phone calls and letters from people every day urging me to “hang in there and fight a good fight”. It really helps. I do not believe that there is anybody out there that is not going to come down on the side of a beautiful little boy once they understand the true facts of this case. Public opinion will get Erik a competent investigation and possibly an amber alert even after six months time.

And I also believe that the folks out in Lyon County are beginning to see the light as well. I would like nothing better than to have Erik in my lap and issue profuse apologies to all the good folks out there in Yerington, Nevada.

When you get him back, and the initial reunion has happened and any needed healing, what do you think the two of you will do together? Does it hurt too much to think about the passage of time and your knowledge of Karen's behaviors?

The day before Erik was kidnapped at the end of April we had bought a little tent and some fishing poles. We set up the tent on top of the bed in my apartment and we were planning fishing and camping trips for the summer. Well the summer is gone and we never had those magic times together. But there will be other summers and when I get Erik back Erik and I are going to do some serious fishing together!

Erik and I had a great relationship and when together we talked continuously. I loved explaining life and the world to Erik and he loved listening and asking questions. Simple activities were often the most interesting for Erik. Once we came upon a bed of newly bloomed poppies in the park. Erik loved the poppies and asked me a hundred questions about them. I tried to answer all his questions in a way to reinforce our love of the earth and of nature. I always tried to explain life to Erik in terms of love, beauty and goodness. We were with the poppies for nearly four hours. It was one of many magical times I enjoyed with my beautiful son.

Now I fear for my son’s life. But I also fear he will lose his sprit, his curiosity and his innocence. I don’t want to lose the little boy who was so enthralled with the beauty of simple poppies.

What do you think the most effective things are at this point that the general public can do to help?

The pen is powerful. Letters have already made a significant difference in this case. For every person who writes a letter there may be a thousand people who may think the same, but who may not write that letter. People holding public positions understand this. A letter is powerful and is unlikely to be ignored.

We have already had some success with our letters and I think we should continue our efforts. Now that our concerns are before the Governor’s Commission on amber alerts I am going to ask the public to start writing the Governor to express their concerns about my son’s safety.

I believe that Nevada’s Governor Guinn is a wise man, a child advocate and a man very concerned about Nevada’s missing children. I believe he will respond positively to letters sent to him regarding bringing Erik back home to Nevada.

A sample letter from a reader:

Dear Governor Guinn,

I am sending this message out of pure concern for the safety for this little boy & the heartache of his Father. I am sure you are doing the best you possibly can to help fin this mans son, but I am having a very hard time understanding any possible reason that an Amber alert can not be placed for this innocent young boy that has already been through more trauma in life than any child should have. We spend millions on senseless things in this world, life is the most important. Amber alert has been proven to save lives. So again I ask....what good reason could possibly stop your State from not having this amber alert? I beg of you Sir, please help this family.

Yours very truly,


For information on how to write to the Governor, please see Erik’s website. Scroll down to the bottom of the page.

Do you think about what will happen if it is too late for Erik in terms of your life in the aftermath of this atrocity?

I cannot think about it being too late for Erik. I just recently finished reading no less than three books about the Elisabeth Smart case in Utah. Elisabeth’s father, Ed Smart, always believed that his daughter was still alive and refused to let the public forget about her. Elizabeth came home. Ed Smart is my hero. We presently have no clear idea of where Erik is or his present circumstances. But we are not going to give up and we are not going to forget about him. We are going to find Erik.

There is really nothing I can add to this. Please help. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

10/19/05 A Victory for Tracy

Early on in this blog, I wrote about missing Robert Spellman. I had attempted a press release in the L.A. area media for his sister, Tracy.

Robert was featured in the USA Today article about lack of media coverage for missing adult males. My son, Jason, was also featured in the article. The L.A. media continues to ignore this case, even though Robert is "one of their own". I thought for sure that the fact that he was featured in USA Today would prompt more coverage for him, but I was wrong. This is a segment of that appeal to the L.A. media:

"Even right now in your community, there is a family in pain because their son, their brother, and their friend has been missing without a trace since April 12th, 2005. They have pleaded for media coverage and received only one story in a newspaper.

Robert Spellman is 27 years old, with brown hair and blue eyes. He is 5' 8", and weighs 165 lbs. He was last seen in Sherman Oaks, CA, and was possibly wearing Nike Shox shoes and carrying an Addias bag. If you have seen Robert, please call the Los Angeles Police Dept at 213-485-5381. Robert's sister, Tracy, will be happy to provide additional details. You may reach Tracy at XXX-XXX-XXXX.

I challenge you to provide more even coverage of missing person's cases regardless of sex, race, age, or circumstance. A story about my organization with a mention of Robert was recently in the USA Today. It highlighted the lack of media attention for missing males.

Please consider helping this family, and the countless others missing, by adopting a fair policy in regards to missing person's coverage. Thank you.

The next day, I wrote:

"The "cloudiest" part of the day was in knowing that once again, the media didn't come to the aid of a missing person's family, at least not yet. Robert Spellman's sister, Tracy, waited and hoped for a phone call informing her that someone was going to run the story of her brother. That phone call never came."

Month after month, Tracy kept churning out press releases to her local and other media for Robert, and month after month, she was ignored, but she never gave up.

Yet another appeal to the L.A. media was sent out today by Tracy, and this one was a little bit different. In it, Tracy announced that Robert's story is now featured on America's Most Wanted website. She is still asking for local coverage for her brother.

With AMW's hefty readership on the web, perhaps his story will be finally be noticed. It's past due, I'd say.

To Tracy, I say "Never give up!" Robert is fortunate to have a loving sister like you. I pray that one day very soon, he will be able to tell you that himself.

Additional information about Robert can be found at the website created for him:
Robert's Tipline: 877-821-4631

10/18/05 How Can I Help? (Revised)

This post is repeated monthly for new readers.

There are many things that can be done to assist families of missing persons. I will outline those here and add on to this monthly with more ideas.

Things you can do without cost:

For those who believe, prayer for both the missing person and for the family is very important. If the missing person is alive, they may be struggling with basic needs and/or the psychological issues in their life. The left behind family members need prayers to help them deal with the numerous issues that come with having a loved one become missing. There is strong scientific evidence that prayer can make a difference. I can tell you that it does.

For families who have websites with guestbooks, be sure to sign the guestbook, as the family is uplifted by these messages of hope and support. You never can underestimate the effect doing this has. You can also email the link to the website to others, asking them to send it on after signing the guestbook.

Important note: Please be responsible when forwarding emails about missing persons. Some are hoaxes and some are about missing persons who have already been found. Do not forward one unless you are sure it is a valid, open case. You can read more about how to check for this here:

You can help us bring awareness for ALL missing persons by emailing all media, local and national, asking for coverage of the missing person’s story.If a certain missing person’s story makes the national news, and is featured on a regular basis by the local media, contact them and remind them of the missing person(s) in their own area. Often, these missing persons may get little to no coverage. You can also do this if you notice the broadcast of news that should not take precedence over people, such as stories about missing animals.

If you would like an automated email sent to you that contains instructions, links, and a prototype letter to send to media, write to

Things you can do for a minimal cost:

Poster placement is proven to be a key method to bring awareness to the case and reunite families. Many printable posters are available online. Both NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) and NCMA (National Center for Missing Adults) have posters on all missing persons. Many other sites have posters as well. Most family websites will have one to print.

It is important to keep posters up in the area where the missing person was last seen, but we also must remember that we are a very mobile society, and if the missing person is alive, they can very quickly move to another part of the country. There are very few cases in which it is a certainty that the missing person is in a specific area.

Project Jason has printable posters available at these sites:

A few family sites also have printable labels you can affix to packages you mail. You can also make business size cards to hand out. You can see examples of these here:

If these are not provided for the missing person you wish to assist, you can make them yourself, using the ones on the page above as a template, or by designing your own.

You can also participate in our Adopt a Missing Person program. For the price of a self-addressed stamped mailer, you can choose one or several missing persons to adopt. You will be sent a photo button to wear and a personal bio, so that you can share their story with others. Wear the button on your purse, backpack, or coat, and give these families hope that they will be reunited.

If a family of a missing person lives in your area, and they hold a fundraiser for their reward fund, you can attend or volunteer to help with the event.

Things you can do for varied costs:

If the family has a reward or search fund, donate to it. Depending on the situation, they might also establish a trust or other fund to care for children of the missing person.If you are already in touch with the family, or know an organization which can, (Project Jason if it is a case shown on our Faces page) inquire as to their needs. Those needs could vary. They may need a number of posters printed up and sent to them for poster campaigns in their area.

If you have a talent, and want to use that talent to help, contact an organization handling their case. The family may be very happy to have a fundraiser, such as a concert, put on for them. Persons who sell products, such as home interiors, can offer a percentage of their profits during a particular sales period. There are many creative things that can be done to help.

It is not recommended to donate personal goods, just items that pertain to the search.

Please keep in mind that donating money or other items to a missing person’s family is not tax deductible as they are not a nonprofit organization. If the family happens to run a nonprofit organization, donations that are intended for their missing loved one must be given directly to the family, and are not tax deductible. A donation made to the organization cannot be used specifically for their missing family member, but is tax deductible if they have nonprofit status granted by the IRS.

And finally, we ask you to help us help them:

We also need your help financially in order to continue our work. The competition for charitable dollars is fierce and small nonprofits such as Project Jason depend strictly on the generosity of the public. We are an all-volunteer force. There is no paid staff and little overhead. Our phone bill is one of our largest expenses.

I dislike posting this because I never want to give the impression we're all about money, but the realities of it are that we just don't get many donations. We have many, many plans we would like to bring to fruition, but it's going to take money to accomplish those things.

So, if you like what we're doing, please help. If you would prefer, please take a look at the good missing person's organizations in your area, and help them. There are many of us who are small and struggling.

Donations can be mailed to:
Project Jason
PO Box 3035
Omaha, NE 68103

Thank you for anything you can do for our cause!

Kelly Jolkowski, Mother of Missing Jason Jolkowski
President and Founder,
Project Jason
Read our Voice for the Missing Blog

Monday, October 17, 2005

10/17/05 Coming Up--Edited 11pm

Sometime on Tuesday, I will post a new interview with Robert Buran, father of abducted Erik Buran. His story was originally presented in my post "The Cutest Little Boy".

We update you on the progress in Erik's case and also share news of Erik's debut on a national TV show.

It's a story that will bring tears to your eyes as you read about the special love this man has for his son, manifested now in his non-stop crusade to find him.

With your help, we have hope that we can bring Erik back home.

4:00pm CST: Robert has been fielding numerous phone calls and emails today, so was not able to complete the interview. He will do this tonight after seeing Erik on the Nancy Grace Show on CNN Headline News. This show airs several times throughout the evening. Please check your local listings for the channel.

I will be posting his story very late this evening. Be sure to tune in to the Nancy Grace Show tonight.

11:00pm CST: Erik was bumped from the Nancy Grace Show due to a high-profile case. We'll let you know when this will air as well as our interview. Thanks to those of you who did check back and who watched the show. We'll get on next time!
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.