Finding the missing: Creating optimism for others
By Bianca Prieto
Digital First Media
The discovery this week of three Ohio women who were kidnapped and held hostage for years is considered by most to be nothing short of a miracle, but experts in the field say such stories are no longer unusual.
“To us at the National Center, this is not something that we find shocking anymore,” National Center for Missing and Exploited Children CEO John Ryan told CNN. “The fact is, we have seen more and more long-term missing cases end up in the victim being rescued many years after their original abduction.”
On Monday, kidnapping victim Amanda Berry was able to escape the Cleveland-area home where she and two other missing women, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight, were held captive, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Neighbor Charles Ramsey heard Berry’s screams and helped her escape, ending the long search for the missing trio.
Such stories offer new hope, Ryan said.
“NCMEC has seen a growing number of recoveries of long-term missing children. Every story we hear offers hope to the families who are still searching, that their own children will one day come home,” Ryan said in a statement. “This story like those of Elizabeth Smart, recovered after nine months; Shawn Hornbeck, recovered after four years; Carlina White, recovered after 23 years; and Steve Carter, recovered after 34 years is the reason why we never forget any missing child.”
But is the optimism inspired by these cases justified, or creating false hope for the families of the missing?
“You don’t always get miracles like this, but when you can improve the odds, that’s hope,” said Libba Phillips, founder of Outpost for Hope, an organization that helps families of “off-the-grid” missing people, like runaways or those affected by mental health issues. “Does this give false hope? Until you’ve exhausted every avenue, you just don’t give up.”
There are about 85,000 unsolved missing persons cases in the United States and 2,300 people are reported missing each day, according to Let’s Bring Them Home, a program that helps provide resources to families of missing adults.
“We never talk about false hope, we only focus on hope,” said LaDonna Meredith, co-founder of Let’s Bring Them Home. “When a family is faced with that type of situation all they have is hope.”
The Ohio case, and other success stories like it, give families of the missing a renewed energy to help them move forward, she said.
“The stats are pretty clear to the families and they know their situations are difficult, sometimes bleak, but the thing we try to instill in families is hope,” Meredith said.
The phones have been ringing-off-the-hook at Let’s Bring Them Home, where case workers assist families of missing persons, Meredith said. Some families have questions, some want to update missing persons information and others want to create a missing persons profile.
Patricia Gager has been searching for her 21-year-old sister Carey Mae Parker since she vanished in March 1991.
Parker was last seen leaving her shift at a business in Terrell, Texas. The mother of three was never heard from again.
“Nobody’s been questioned, nobody’s been looked into,” Gager said. “All I have are rumors.”
Gager just wants to know what happened to her sister and hasn’t given up hope during the last 22 years.
“What we see is they rejoice for the family who has had a recovery, and they say ‘Wow, this can happen. This is possible if we don’t give up hope.’” Meredith said. “After that they have to face the ambiguous loss of their own; learn to cope with it again. It’s bittersweet for the families who are still missing those loved ones.”