Turning Commitment Into Action-  Reflections on the 2019 CUE Center for Missing Persons Conference


*photo courtesy Shawn White

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and sign up for a project, event, activity and then have second thoughts afterwards. Many of us do it with all good intentions and then our attention gets drawn away to other pressing items.

These days, something REALLY has to capture our attention for more than 10 seconds, or else it is discarded in the crevices of our brain, sometimes never to be excavated again. So, when we are faced with fleeting attention spans, immediate gratification in this electronic world, what really counts?

It is the heart that captures all human emotion. It harnesses our love, our pain, our memories we cherish, and those we’d rather forget. It is the heart that responds when words cannot. Such is the “recipe” for longevity of a non-profit that has persevered, helped thousands of families nationwide and beyond, and accomplished much with the respect and assistance of the law enforcement community and other individuals.

For 24 years, Monica Caison has used her intuitive gifts to mold an organization going well beyond many others of its genre. Strategic planning, skilled case management,  the ability to select the most appropriate hands on method at the time, to instill hope, guide family involvement in the process, give emotional support, garner outside resources, give advice regarding assisting detectives and the media, provide hands on assistance in all kinds of searching terrain is part of the master plan puzzle she creates for families of missing persons and homicide. Posters are a good tool, but they are but one small piece of the puzzle in finding a missing person. It takes a village and each person in the village that is the CUE Center for Missing Persons is a vital piece!

A  good quality conference is far more than a list of presenters and networking in the professional sense. It is a bird’s-eye view of what really matters and what makes this Conference truly unique.

In the many years I have been associated with the CUE,  I have been witness to conference attendees,- professional searchers actually leaving the Conference to attend to an emergency local SAR situation; afforded the yearly honor of having an official police escort to our Candlelight Vigil. So many new friendships have been forged; people “finding their voice” with the strength and encouragement of others. Coordinators and attendees come together year after year, like a beloved  family reunion; I have met so many inspiring people and offered a radio voice for all to hear; I have been an active participant in hugs, tears, laughter and true appreciation for what each brings to the table as a person, by so many. I’m truly not a celebrity, just an advocate like so many other. However, I am afforded this status at this Conference by some. (Quite unnecessary, but an honor to be able to help them in some way!)

The impressive group photos that bond us together serve as a reminder all throughout the year that we are united as one.

Rather than fancy dinners, homestyle food cooked is with love and served by young volunteers scampering everywhere to serve the throngs of attendees.They are the next generation of the true caring and compassionate professionals to assist with missing persons and homicide victims.

Fundraising galore takes place with a lively Master of Ceremonies who offers witty commentary, jokes, many gift baskets, raffle items, lovely crafted quilts, original woodworking, necessary equipment needed by searcher given to the highest bidder, along with the sale of presenters’ books, CUE memorabilia and clothing. – all for the cause! BOTTOM LINE – THIS IS A VERY PERSONAL CONFERENCE!


Some Heart Touching Moments this Year-

The Susan Murphy Milano Passages Award – Recipient- Angie Warner-Gilchrist whose mother, Alice Donovan, was kidnapped and henoisly murdered November 14, 2002 in South Carolina and whose remains were recovered with the skilled assistance of the CUE Center in January 2009. Life had spiralled out of control with such a devastating loss, in which she fought other challenges to survive.  Years later Angie was victimized again – Held at gunpoint and robbed at a convenience store in which she worked.  In 2019, she has found recovery, and solace, in the accomplishments of her two daughters and  enjoys the beauty of gardening! Our Shattered Lives Podcast- http://www.blogtalkradio.com/insidelenz/2016/06/04/shattered-lives-the-aftermath-of-crime-with-angie-warner 

*photo courtesy Connie Braddock

Dr Henry C. Lee A preeminent forensic scientist and crime scene investigator, and founder of the Henry C. Lee Institute in New Haven, CT, he was involved in investigating many high-profile cases over the past 50 years, solving more than 8,000 cases around the world. Dr. Lee brought his unique presentation style and immediately captured our hearts by recounting of how his law enforcement career began in China and with hilariously funny examples of differences between Chinese and American culture prior to delving into the meat of his presentation on homicide and missing persons case investigation.

Extremely gracious throughout the Conference, he never tired of photo opportunities, attended seminars and engaged with everyone!  I had been fortunate to meet him and interview him previously, including a two-hour podcast and tour with associate, Tim Palmbach. Previous Podcasts- https://imaginepublicity.com/2014/09/13/shattered-lives-radio-the-henry-c-lee-institute-in-review/

Norma Peterson Love of family knows no bounds, especially when her sister-in-law, Stacey Peterson, is the victim of  husband, ex-cop Drew Peterson in Chicago. Norma’s evolution to an impressive advocate for Intimate Partner Violence victims is inextricably linked to her relationship and work of Susan Murphy Milano- Nationally accomplished homicide survivor , IPV advocate, radio host and creator of Document the Abuse – the Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit (EAA). As part of Susan’s legacy, this revolutionary tool documents the abuse, creates a living will with a video and clearly documents evidence that is admissible in court if needed, should the abused person not be available.  Norma has taken over as primary spokesperson for this innovation by forming networks to wage a nationwide campaign for its use. Norma’s CUE presentation was personal and passionate.

Dennis Gillan Mental health and suicide prevention speaker. There are 47,173 suicides per day, with men attempting at a rate of Never has there been a more down to earth, vulnerable presenter who instantly lends credibility for sharing his personal struggles after his two brothers died by suicide. Grappling with this event once is unbearable, but twice,  is inconceivable.

Dennis’ journey was rocky, as the suicides were devastating the quality of his life and his family. Part of his healing has included some practical methodologies for survival, combined with public speaking, capturing the attention of many community groups to reach others with his very personal, impactful message.

How very special that Dennis encountered a personal care worker assisting his elderly father who related that a relative had been missing in Wilmington for several years without any news.  Dennis made the vital connection and invited the man to the CUE Center Conference for the next day. We hope and pray that CUE can assist this family as well.

Judith A. Yates -Criminologist and True Crime Author-  One part sassy, very savvy and committed to assisting crime victims  via case consulting and as an author. Her presentation, provocative, intellectual, and always interesting discourse. Judith walked us through analyzing photos of a home, challenging us to look beyond the obvious for clues.

Her latest book, Bullied To Death, a true tale of a 14-year-old Sherokee Harriman’s unusual death. Throughout the conference, I noted her immediate investment in the CUE’s mission as Judith immersed herself in all events, producing live videos for all to view on social media. Judith left us with many things ponder after  her presentation and in informal conversation. Her Book-https://www.amazon.com/Bullied-Death-Bullying-Sherokee-Harriman/dp/1947290452

Mac Morgan Retired Police Chief for the Sanford NC Police Department and Chief of the NC K9 Emergency Response Team , Certifier and Trainer gave a fascinating presentation of the critical “First 72 Hours” with his fair, compassionate and southern style, that demonstrated that he is a truly credible and caring man dedicated to missing persons with decades of experience. This is a man who missing persons families can trust to do his best, and lead the way as a professional on a search.

Carthetha Kosky A visual arts teacher and author who has connected with the multitudes via artistic expression as a form of healing and coming out, coming of age, coming to terms. She related her experiences in working with many populations and focused on working with a man who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Her gentle style of presentation and ability to reach the unreachable resonated with me, as I have worked with many of the same persons with such personal challenges. Carletha’s book was recently published, Demented, the story of Jordan a troubled teen dealing with trauma and loss while simultaneously she works with the Alzheimer’s client as they contribute to each other’s healing.

Greg Scarbro -FBI Unit Chief concerns with Biometric Services (i.e.the measurable biological, anatomical and physiological) or behavioral characteristics used for identification of an individual. Fingerprints are a common biometric modality, but others include things like DNA, irises, voice patterns, palm prints, and facial patterns. In an effort to harness new technologies and improve identifications, the Bureau developed its Next Generation Identification (NGI) system, which provides the criminal justice community with the world’s largest and most efficient electronic repository of biometric and criminal history information.

With precision, Greg related how quickly, fingerprints can now be identified via their electronic repository in virtually minutes versus the old manual method in an era when manual examiners are literally a dying, retiring group. He also touched on other technologies such iris of the eye recognition, and  facial recognition. The Next Generation Identification has arrived. Is your state ready? Reference- https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/fingerprints-and-other-biometrics 

Marissa Wright – A Connecticut connection who has attended the CUE Conference previously. However, she hit her stride this year with the opportunity to present given her experience as an independent investigator for the Department of Defense – Army Corps of Engineers. Soft spoken, but fiercely dedicated, she discussed the important components involved  in Healing from Trauma and Loss. Happily, Marissa has aspirations to become more involved with the CUE Center in the future.

Emotional, but So Meaningful-

The Family Hour – A few chosen families who are given the time to “find their voice”, share their pain, their loss, their perspective, their frustration and their love for their missing person.  Words cannot convey-

  1. Donna Green – as a very young mother searching for 40 years for her abducted missing son – Donald Lamar Green in Atlanta since November 1978;
  2. Patty Carter Bishop- Stepmother of Karen Jo Smith who went missing December 27, 2000 in Indiana;
  3. Tammy Gilley, Mother of Brandon Gilley who went missing in Florida, April 11, 2018;
  4. Angie Mojica, Sister of Rose Mallette-  Someone bashed the back of Mallette’s skull, wrapped her body in a blanket and dumped it on the side of some railroad tracks. She was reported missing Sept. 15, 2001, but her decomposed remains weren’t discovered until March 8, 2002 underneath pine straw behind MCO Transport, a trucking company, off U.S. 421 North in a no-man’s land of industry in New Hanover County, North Carolina. The case remains unsolved.  She was 26 years old.

National Candlelight Service  and Awards Ceremony-

This event is the culmination of everything good about the CUE Center for Missing Persons for me. It  combines the uplifting of the spiritual, the setting of the sunset and the calm of the Wilmington River “eyed” by the majestic USS Wilmington, former Battleship and Museum  flanked on the other side by marbled Government buildings.

Candlelight takes center stage with the lighting of the candles symbolizing hope , love  respect and support for Missing and Victims of Homicide

Radio Host and Wilmington Community Activist Sandra McClammy is th MC  reflecting the theme with occasional sprinkles of humor. Inspiring vocal  compositions are always included this year by Hannah Kol, singing, “Rainbow.” Lending prestige and appreciation for efforts by many affiliated with the CUE Center is a cavalcade of awards, beautiful plaques awarded personal by Monica Caison to State Outreach Coordinators, Law Enforcement, local Businesses  and Canine Searchers, and Youth Volunteers!

A hush comes over the crowd when selected Honoree Families present their painful stories express their appreciation to the CUE Center staff and most importantly relate the previously unknown realities of being a missing persons family.

You literally can hear a pin drop, during these presentations. This year’s honoree families included Julius Russin, Austin Long, Steven Ketchen and Nieko Lisi.

On a personal note, I was overwhelmed by the extremely moving account by Monica Button, whose  missing son’s status was mired ed in complexities, frustration and injustices. Her presentation entitled “No Turning Back” demonstrated her strength, her growth, her resolve as a true advocate who will not give up on behalf of her son! In contrast to her  previous family hour presentation, I thought she has “come a million miles” and I was truly so proud of her! Nieko’s Profile-https://www.ncmissingpersons.org/single-post/2011/09/30/Nieko-Lisi-New-York-Addison

I turned to Marissa Wright who was sitting on my left with Dr. and Mrs. Lee on my right, and remarked in awe following Monica Button’s presentation, “You can’t ever convey THAT in a Powerpoint.” She agreed!

*photo courtesy Shawn White


A Personal Story – More Compassion, Making an Impression that Goes Beyond Words-

 I was so proud to assist in small measure for Dr. Henry Lee to attend our Conference. Beyond the high-profile cases, there is a real humanity that you don’t know until you witnessed it.

This man was so gracious with his time, for interviews, photo opportunities,. His wit and sense of humor plentiful, his presentation outstanding. At the Candlelight Service his wife “hung on tight to arm tight” at the vigil when she saw I was having trouble rising from my folding chair. Language aside, Dr. and Mrs Lee sat beside the Wilmington River, highly engaged, listening,as he  translating softly in Chinese to his wife, who was taking photos, videos. I think we have me a positive impression in so many ways with this distinguished man. Invitations to all to visit his Forensic Institute. It’s time I returned with friends. It was such an honor to have him with us.

For More Information –  https://www.ncmissingpersons.org: https://donnagore.com

If  you need assistance with writing a professional Victim Impact Statement, please refer to the Victim Impact Statement FAQ’s on this site.

To schedule a presentation with me at your future event or  conference please contact:

ImaginePublicity,  Telephone: 843.808.0859  Email:  contact@imaginepublicity.com


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