Looking Past the Word “Missing:” 2017 National Missing Persons Conference

Luke 2:7 says about Mary giving birth to Jesus, “And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn” (New King James Version).

Such is the case with many missing persons. There is no room at the inn, figuratively or literally.

People on the fringes of life didn’t ask to be there. They came into this world, supposedly with an equal chance, until the forces of life were thrust upon them. In past generations, it was doctor, lawyer, Indian Chief as the saying goes. Today, our youth aspire to the tech world, financial services, and emergency services. But what if the world has not prepared you to function properly, despite your dreams? What happens in the aftermath?

We become the casualties of circumstances, as CUE Center for Missing Persons Founder, Monica Caison so aptly observes.  In 2017, there are so many challenges in life. The pace of life, the stress, the expectations are grueling. For those who do not have the wherewithal, the resources, the education, or the support of family and friends, they are destined to get lost in the black hole of existence. What might befall them is the daily reality of what makes the CUE Center for Missing Persons tick.

There are categories of those who go missing; those whose life ends by homicide, those afflicted with mental illness, those who are homeless, those who are kicked out of the house because of their sexual orientation, those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, those who are homeless. One example is veterans, the elderly, and those with chronic medical issues.

Some of the realities include families are often ill-equipped to help once a missing person with a “casualty of life problem” arises.  Such victims begin the path of no return and become part of the escalating missing person pool.  Government assistance is hopelessly bureaucratic with access very difficult.  People are poor, live in rural areas and they do not know what to do, nor how to access information. Often they are embarrassed to ask for assistance. Many people are prideful and decide to fend for themselves. However, when we examine these realities, many are excuses.  Families want the problem to just go away and put forth a minimum of effort. Homeless shelters warehouse people for a few hours and provide band-aid measures like a meal. Counselors expect homicide survivors to heal in six sessions because that’s all that insurance will cover. Men are literally left out in the cold, even when they choose to seek shelter, as women with children are seen as the priority. The list goes on and on.

Embracing Dignity and Courage

These were the lasting impressions as we ended the final morning session of the 2017 CUE Center for Missing Persons Annual Conference, “Embracing Dignity and Courage.”   There were multiple examples of this theme permeating the Conference.

The CUE Center proves dignity and a safe haven for families who are left to their own devices without direction or hope. We NEVER make false promises that their loved one will definitely be located.  However, they are educated and given the tools to carry on in a family centered, the non-profit organization whose skills, dedication and longevity are unmatched.

Victims become survivors and advocates in the long haul nature in the missing persons arena. Without even realizing, there is power in belonging to a club in which no one wants membership. It may take a few months or a year or more. Such families move through their grief and take on the task of guiding others emotionally, providing a lifeline to new members when they are emotionally ready.

No contribution is too small or goes unnoticed in the collective sense. The commitment runs the gamut from tracking calls, to creating vivid informational posters for all to see, to performing case management, holding fundraising events, doing promotion, public relations, conference planning, coordinating ground searches, gathering search and rescue resources and equipment, collaborating with local law enforcement, training police departments and school children alike about aspects of missing persons, recruiting State Outreach Coordinators across the country and countless other functions, matching talent with tasks.

The Victims Hour

You can hear a pin drop.  Selected family members are invited to courageously tell their story of their loved one’s disappearance in order to provide a sense of release, camaraderie and to illustrate that the club has many members and they too share the need for a lifeline and a means to just keep afloat.

Peggy Carr’s case was the first one that gave national notice to the CUE Center. Mother Penny Britton gave a moving portrayal of their story so many years ago and the legacy built since 1988  http://www.ncmissingpersons.org/index.php?s=Peggy+Carr

Monica Button, the mother of Nieko Lisi who went missing in Addison, New York in September 2011, gave the most heart wrenching, angry, grief-stricken, obsession driven account of her efforts for justice. Neiko, who by all accounts was a good son, but with imperfections, remains missing. http://www.ncmissingpersons.org/index.php?s=Nieko+Lisi

Cynthia Day’s recovered remains ended a 26-year wait for her family as a result of comparing cases. The discovery of a box of bones and a thumbprint that may yield a sense of resolution for the multi-generational family who appeared before the conferenced audience.   http://www.ncmissingpersons.org/index.php?s=cynthia+Day+

The National Candlelight Service

This is a take your breath away event combining spirituality, prayer, music, inspirational speeches, acknowledging award recipients, and families who are on the Wall of Remembrance. Hope is Everlasting!  This year, as in the past, the skies opened up adjacent to the Cape Fear River, mixed with tear drops. But the ever-resourceful staff literally picked up the ceremony and accouterments and we continued at the hotel.

How many people do you know who live in a town with a population of 106,500 (2016-17) who also have earned the respect of law enforcement and other community leaders that take the time to personally welcome us and provide an escort by the Sheriff’s Department?  Our escort included sirens blaring and cars race along the entire route to our Riverside Candlelight Vigil. It is a sight to behold! However, it demonstrates the pride and respect shown to Monica Caison, missing persons’ families and all those involved.

Presentations and Classes

Among the many impressive presentations, was the Norma Peterson’s Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit. The Document the Abuse program, addresses the needs of all intimate partner violence victims. My heart was filled with pride to note that Norma Peterson, the sister in law of Stacy Peterson, was now carrying the torch to benefit others in a much wider scope!  http://documenttheabuse.com

And yes, children are involved. They are our future to carry on the organization, and the mission of good works for missing persons, good works for all in their daily lives!

Monica CaisonQuote-

“Only in the Beat of the heart can a count be measured, similar to the step one takes in a search for the lost.” 

Donate to the Community United Effort Center for Missing Persons-  (2016 Top Rated Great Non-Profit) http://www.ncmissingpersons.org/donate/

 


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To schedule Donna R. Gore for your next conference, seminar or event, please contact ImaginePublicity.Phone: 843-808-0859 or Email: contact@imaginepublicity.com

The CUE Center for Missing Persons – Paving the Way through Grace- for the Families 2016

 

“The number of reported missing individuals has become a silent epidemic with the open roadways, waterways, and scenic wood lines used as open graveyards. They are horrific graveyards to which no one is paying attention.  Reports of Missing Persons exceed 800.000 annually, leaving nothing more than a path of devastation felt by thousands of families left behind, to linger an unknown fate.” Monica Caison 

Snapshots in Time-

paving-the-way-fuzzy11-e1448040883768Founder, Monica Caison – Honed her skills in missing person’s case management and counseling families through intuitive knowledge and 23 years of “ground pounding,” covering thousands of hours in the woods, and every terrain, on the road, with phone calls, and home visits. Over the years, she has built an impressive network of colleagues in law enforcement and other arenas, enlisting their help with the sole purpose of finding missing persons and unsolved homicides.

Hugs, tears and joyful experiences are indelibly seared into her memory. Ask about a specific case, and she has an encyclopedic recall of details!   She knows her strengths, and knows when and to whom to delegate.  She delivers her brand of compassion combined with a sense of reality and urgency for new families, for they do not know the journey and have to be schooled rapidly. Surrounded by advocates across the country, Monica customizes her approach with every case and perseveres until there is resolution.

Her skills shone brightly at the 12th Annual Conference in Wilmington, NC.

INVESTIGATION SKILLS- Huddled in small groups, State Coordinators listened intently to a previously solved case.  During this “think on your feet” exercise, selected facts were given and we were asked to identify the most important information in five minutes in order most effectively proceed with the case. Ideas, questions, clarifications were tossed around participants. In the end, we learned many lessons about how difficult case management is when time is a precious commodity.

A CAUTIONARY TALE – A Sunday morning tutorial by Monica stressed the importance of the actions of the first person on the scene will set the tone for the entire investigation.  Preconceived ideas, your history with similar cases, your feelings about investigators can color and often times lead the case down the wrong path with damaging effects that can take months to rectify.

(Without the proper experience) “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” St Bernard of Clairvaux  

Sometimes it’s good to throw you in the water to see if you will sink or swim… that’s how we learn!

PRESENTERS- The air was “electric with anticipation” for the new topics and new speakers –

We so appreciate the talented and diverse array of presenters who gave of their time so selflessly in impart their knowledge and insights to assist those who work with missing persons and homicides.  For a detailed account of their bios refer to-

http://www.ncmissingpersons.org/national-conference-2/CUE Collage

 

Wesley Clark– Former Connecticut State Police Detective and Supervisor with 22 years experience with the State police Major Crimes Squad, and Internal Affairs. Since 2009, his focus has been to train law enforcement in innovative approaches regarding interviewing and interrogation of suspects; 

“Sometimes when you push someone, you find out who that person really is.” Keith Ablow- Murder Suicide

Timothy Palmbach – As of 2013, Professor Palmbach has been engaged with the implementation of advanced forensic investigative methods in the war against trafficking in persons (TIP) and related issues such as counter terrorism. He worked with non-governmental and government officials to employ the collection of DNA based evidence during active, undercover investigations involving cases of human trafficking in the countries of Nepal and Costa Rica.  In 2004, he joined the faculty of the University of New Haven as an Associate Professor and Chair of the Forensic Science Department.

He was Executive Director of the Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science. In that capacity, he built and trained law enforcement personnel throughout the world. His credentials also include being a Major of the Connecticut State Police/Commanding Officer/Director for the Division of Scientific Services, Department of Public Safety Laboratory; He served as a Detective and then Sergeant with the Major Crime Squad, and earning his JD from the University of CT Law School.

“You can choose to look the other way but you can never say again, you did not know.” William Wiberforce”

Michael StreedInstructor: Sergeant (Ret.) is an internationally-recognized forensic facial imaging expert based in Southern California with 35 years experience of law enforcement combined with his forensic artist skills to large police departments across the country. He also owns SketchCop Solutions, LLC – Law Enforcement’s Source for Facial Imaging and Biometric Identification, managing an innovative consulting business to law enforcement and private entities. He is the author of the book, “Sketchcop.”

“The ultimate mystery is one’s own self” Sammy Davis, Jr.

Michael Melson- Founder/President of Hawk Analytics–a company that develops applications that extract rapid answers and compelling visual evidence from location-based data, worked in the cell phone industry for over a decade  as an engineer with an advanced degree in software architecture with over 25 years cumulative experience.  He began developing software tools to better visualize the records after working with law enforcement as a pilot and search volunteer for missing persons.2011 was a landmark year in which he assisted solving a missing person cold case the first time entirely through phone records. In 2013, the first commercially available version of those software tools was launched as CellHawk.

“The cell phone has become the adult’s transitional object, replacing the toddler’s teddy bear for comfort and a sense of belonging.” Margaret Heffernan, Author, International Businesswoman 

Steph Watts – Producer–Journalist, specializing in profiling Cold Case Crimes, Homicide, Missing Persons, whose uncompromising standards assist families in creating a true awareness of the issues surrounding crime victims.  His investigative work has been instrumental in discovery and compelling coverage in such cases as the Kathleen Savio- Drew Peterson trial, Scott Peterson, Casey Anthony trials, Mathew Sheppard murder, the trial of cult leader Warren Jeffs, in addition to his contributions for many cable TV series.

“We don’t go into journalism to be popular. It is our job to seek the truth and put constant pressure on our leaders until we get answers” Helen Thomas – Former White House Correspondent

Jon Liebermanis an Emmy award-winning investigative correspondent, host, producer, author and victim advocate. He is a Board member of PAVE -Project Against Violent Encounters http://pavebennington.org/about-pave/.  Jon is President of Command Communications – a full service communications firm. He has also created and executive produced original video series for the web and consulted with major corporations and media on content development and execution. Jon has filed hundreds of reports on fugitives across the country and abroad for the FOX TV show “America’s Most Wanted.”

Objective journalism and an opinion column are about as similar as the Bible and Playboy magazine.” Walter Cronkite

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The Families – Approximately 350 persons registered for this year’s Conference, a percentage of whom were missing person or homicide family members turned volunteers, and Coordinators. There’s nothing like the “gravitational pull” of tragedy to bring like people together forever…

1) Harriet Rivers – On behalf of her Missing Daughter – Ebonee Spears –

A Smiling Face Adorns the City of Wilmington Hoping for Answers!

“It’s just like the city opened up and swallowed my child whole” were the words Harriet used to describe the mysterious disappearance of Ebonee.  Ebonee is a single mom with a young child, who went missing after being seen about 10:45 pm outside her Wilmington home.  Prior to that time, she went to the Wilmington Police Department and tried to make a call using their phone and was frustrated when it would not operate and left, according to the officer on duty.  News sources via her mother report that Ebonee was on an anti-depressant for Lupus and had been acting strangely in the days leading up to that night. In addition, her boyfriend, father of her child, went to her apartment and noted her car was in the driveway, her purse inside, but no cell phone and no Ebonee.

Her best friend, Coquitta Whitaker, owner of a local hair salon said, “She’s so responsible. This is not like her.” Ebonee was also a temporary employee at the University of North Carolina- Wilmington in their history department last spring and summer.  Faculty was impressed with her work ethic and dedication to her child.

A billboard campaign was initiated by the CUE Center for Missing Persons at the beginning of March in six strategic locations throughout Wilmington.  Regarding the effectiveness of billboards, according to Monica Caison, “they become larger than life and get so much more attention.” In fact, Ebonee’s face and demographic information will be seen for eight seconds 500 times a day through the rotation of the six billboards. The billboards will remain with her information as long as needed.

Anyone with information concerning Spears or her disappearance may contact official sources including the Wilmington Police Department at 910-343-3609 or anonymously submit a tip via Text-A-Tip. Send “Tip708” and the information to 274637 (CRIMES). The WPD is offering a $5,000 reward for information.

Ebonee’s Cue Center Profile: http://www.ncmissingpersons.org/index.php?s=Ebonee+Spears

2)  Gretchen Ring on Behalf of her Missing Daughter- Heidi Ring , Chico California-

Gretchen Ring is a 72 year old mother tormented by the ups and downs of her former child, Heidi, She was described as someone  “with a very big heart who helped everyone,” but sadly, could not help herself. Heidi was trapped in the endless cycle of mental illness and physical impairments such as migraines and a seizure disorder. To ease the pain, she smoked marijuana and then “graduated” to harder drugs which became the vehicle of her downward spiral including homelessness. However, Heidi, then 37, always checked in with family up until June 2005.   Reaching out to the “hobo network” as Gretchen called it, and spending all of her money to try to get Heidi on an even keel, did not help in the long run.

A dedicated investigator, Luis Parker, now 84, generated many leads that seemingly went nowhere all the way to Oregon. Tell tale signs that Heidi was not merely within the underground of homelessness, but truly missing was the fact that she did not retrieve her prescriptions or government assistance check.

Seven years came and went with her family diligently looking for her, while at the same time, rumor had it that Heidi didn’t want to be found by her family which only served to alienate all parties. But still, there was a mother’s unwavering love, a mother who spent her last dime on this thankless unending search.

Heidi’s remains were found adjacent to a boat ramp at Ord Bend Park in July 2012, and they were identified as hers in October of 2012. However, the circumstances are still unknown. Was it a homicide, or was foul play involved? This question kept Gretchen awake at night. It also has given her the desire to help others in the cycle of homelessness and to create a deeper awareness by telling Heidi’s story. The pain and sacrifice is etched on her face. But she states, “Maybe I can help someone out, somehow, with their journey in this unforgiving landscape of pain that families are in.”

3) National Candlelight Service- Featured Guest Speaker– Dawn Drexel on behalf of her Missing Daughter, Brittanee Drexel

There is a  pervasive sense of honor that is in the air when one attends this event. It is characterized by a special police escort throughout the entire route, much care, coordination and participation by so many volunteers is evident; the Wilmington River flowing adjacent to rows of chairs, flowers, music, speeches from the heart, candles, music, awards, prayers… and a veiled wall soon to be revealed, bearing witness to the many missing persons yet to be found in the future!

A mother stands at the podium and reads words from the heart. ‘Words that cut like a knife; Words that discuss how she has coped, her pride in family, her perseverance, her gratitude to the Cue Center and all of the volunteers and the legacy the disappearance of her daughter has created as a model for other families to come.  The milestone of seven years has brought both bitter reminders of the loss in Dawn Drexel’s life. On the positive side, a lifetime of new friends and families embraced her in the darkest days of life when her daughter, Brittanee seemingly vanished off the face of the earth while visiting Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. On the negative side, there was indescribable loss, longing and “if only’s.”

What has not been said about Brittanee’s case? There’s been speculation, rumor, inertia, some facts, as well as a fierce dedication to the mission of locating her at any cost by the Cue Center for Missing Persons and other entities.  Brittanee represents all missing persons of her generation. This has been a heavy burden for the Drexel family and all parents of missing children.

 

Her cell phone’s last communication was emitted from a tower in McClellenville, S.C. – about 60 miles or an hour and 20 minute drive from Myrtle Beach.

Abduction and possible human trafficking has been among the strongest theories to date. However, the strongest injustice has been the “conspiracy of silence” from the other parties involved, which is crushing to one’s soul! How can it be after seven years ,that NO ONE has come forward to give a substantial lead? And yet, they carry on…

A Candlelight Vigil is planned for Brittanee on the 7th Anniversary at the Market Common where a tree was planted in her honor. See details –https://www.facebook.com/events/972518209461981/

Anyone with information regarding Drexel’s whereabouts or her disappearance is asked to call the Myrtle Beach Police Department at 843-918-1963 or the CUE Center for Missing Persons’ 24 hour tip line at 910-232-1687.

My Personal Thanks

This, my fourth year of involvement and service to the Cue Center was an overwhelmingly rewarding Conference in so many ways, I never could have imagined!

DRGAwards2016I received a multitude of awards, including a Volunteer Service Award, the Keeper of the Flame Award, the Passages Award in memory of Susan Murphy Milano, and a beautiful wood carving with a message of hope.  These accolades were befitting of so many among me, and yet I was chosen – what an honor!

And yet, with all of these accolades, the most meaningful aspects for me, was the   sense of belonging to something very worthwhile, a cause larger than life itself, a commitment  to the people- the families, the volunteers,  and their stores,. It meant the opportunity to learn more from Monica and the presenters and instructors. I thank Monica and her staff for their kindnesses toward me, the sense of appreciation and confidence in my skills, which was heretofore not fully known to me. You could have knocked me over with a feather… several times!

Susan Murphy-Milano – I would be remiss if I did not relate my gratitude to my former earthly and now spiritual connection to dear friend, advocate, mentor and fellow homicide survivor, Susan Murphy Milano.  Susan was special to many people. She sacrificed so much, helped thousands of victims, and defended her innovative methods and amazing track record, particularly in assisting those experiencing intimate partner and family violence.  She made an indelible impression on my life.  I believe she was “observing from the great beyond” in Wilmington,” embracing me through Monica Caison and Peggy Bettis at the podium. How I miss her!

Monica Caison – The voice for missing persons and unsolved homicides whose selflessness and dedication continues to inspire me and countless others across the nation. I’ve learned she is a keen observer of all of her charges, who gives you autonomy and the ability to learn and grow over time. Monica quietly appreciates dedication, quality work, and those with compassion and a giving nature. I love that she embraces mankind, of every walk of life or circumstance,  uses selective compliments peppered with a kidding nature and self-deprecating humor!   She sees to it that every single family feels as if they are the only ones who matter!

No, she deserved to be found… and I’m sure we all walked away with life lessons that day. We all need to matter. We all need to be loved by someone.     We all need to be found. But more importantly, all need to be searched for.” Monica Caison 

Peggy Bettis – A trusted friend and supporter, was front and center. Her selflessness was demonstrated in ways that can never truly be measured, except in our hearts! She too has enriched my life immeasurably!

It’s the Little Things That Count too;

Thank you to Rachael Smith for showing care and concern for my food allergies. Thanks to James “Hambone” Hamm for being my special golf cart chauffeur.  Thanks to all of the State Coordinators who are so friendly and don’t mind that I’m “a Yankee” at heart! LOL

Coming Full Circle

With an average of over 500 new cases served per year, (2013 Stats,) Hope is not strictly defined. It can come in the form of “just carrying on” daily with the support of others, or achieving resolution such as a tragic, fateful end or the recovery of a person and potential reuniting with a family!  Our emotions, our bodies, our minds and our souls take the ultimate toll in this process.  We are never, ever the same again, no matter what the outcome.   All things considered, Monica Caison and the Cue Center is there for everyone, answering the call!

To Donate: http://www.ncmissingpersons.org/category/donate/

“I wake up softly entering my day, to only wonder who will be found along the way.”  Monica Caison 

References: http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20160318/NEWS/160319622;

http://myinforms.com/en-gb/a/27667532-mother-of-ebonee-spears-speaks-at-missing-persons-conference/

http://www.wect.com/story/31329420/ebonee

http://www.wect.com/story/31026998/ebonee-spears-mom-best-friend-say-police-offer-little-help-in-search-for-missing-woman

http://portcitydaily.com/2016/01/29/tips-pour-in-as-police-search-for-wilmington-mom-missing-for-two-weeks/

http://www.chicoer.com/article/NA/20160313/NEWS/160319899

http://www.chicoer.com/article/ZZ/20120924/NEWS/120929822

Perseverance with a Purpose: The Cue Center for Missing Persons 2015 Conference

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No matter how it is traditionally measured, perseverance took center stage at this year’s 11th Annual Community United Effort for the Missing Conference. It is “the glue of one’s existence” once a missing person and/or potential homicide occurs. Weeks, months, years can pass while the mind, the heart and “every molecule” searches for the reason why with the fervent hope of a rescue versus a recovery.

In the beginning, assumptions are made by families that surely with all of the professionals involved, a blanket of publicity, clues, answers to the puzzle and a final outcome leading to justice will be theirs.

However, reality is often a bitter pill. Crime victim families are never prepared for the onslaught of the hard truths and emotions that “come with the package.” Monica Caison, aka “the Searcher,” the Founder of CUE and the visionary for families of the missing, guides the wounded and broken-hearted to a better place once trust is established.  Her uncompromising standards of excellence have paved the way for unparalleled success in many arenas and won the respect of professionals in the realm of missing persons. It takes a nationwide network and a very special village of dedicated individuals to accomplish her work in order to mend families on the path of their “new normal.”

The 2015 11th Annual Conference was my fourth time witnessing an incredible coming together of good souls, talented people with a mission in their hearts to serve, honor and educate. Unlike other professional conferences, this gathering is never about a “fee for service.” Rather, it is all about community as the name states in a way that no other gathering achieves! New people from across the country “attend and blend” with the veterans who have chosen to use their grief, along with interested volunteers for a productive purpose. In my experience, it takes but one exposure to this event to “hook you forever.” It matters not what your affiliation is you will be transformed!

“The Framework”

At some point in the sequence of events, a “light bulb” will appear. It could occur when Chip Krieger, a personable master of ceremonies, perpetually keeps the action going with a full agenda, good humor and lots of respect for the participants. He also doles out the many donated gift baskets as if,” just for a moment”, we think this must be a cruise, rather than a conference for the missing!

A brief three-hour period of levity in which you can dance and sing the night away to karaoke favorites or “dress up goofy” in the photo booth! What fun! (I got my souvenir with Monica!)

The lightbulb moment could happen when you participate in a newly created law enforcement panel who fields questions previously gone unanswered. Truth be told, families do want answers more than anything. However, often there is no answer, or the answer varies based upon the jurisdiction. In any case, courage abounds whether you are on the law enforcement side of the table or the survivor‘s side.

Drones 101” The Wave of the Future, and how they pertain to search and recovery efforts (as well as over 300 + other uses in the future was presented by John Minor, military and academic expert  of the Unmanned Vehicle University based  in Phoenix , AZ.

Your light bulb may begin to shine when learning about “No Body Convictions” that have occurred with increasing frequency and gained wider acceptance thanks to expert skilled prosecutor and author Tad DiBiase.  Still another reason for hope and perseverance.

The hard truths about Human Trafficking and all of its ugliness (the who, what, where when and why) were laid out as Criminologist, and Director of the Cold Case Investigative Research Institute,  Sheryl McCollum and co-presenter Duane Thompson, Ph.D; gave an animated presentation of their investigative experiences in Atlanta.

The “Jane Wayne of the Courtroom” and cable TV, attorney  Holly Hughes,  gave a rousing presentation, Legal facts that can damage your case, discussing the “don’ts”  for crime victims which can damage their cases. Good practical advice interspersed with real courtroom examples!

Victim families are always interested in the forensic side of cases. Commander Peter Cestare educated participants concerning   the processing of the crime scene, and preservation through the presentation of evidence during courtroom testimony in Crime Scene to Courtroom.

Pet First Aid Class

Pet First Aid Class

Early in the conference, I heard rave reviews about the “hands on- on the floor” training regarding the importance of “Canine First Aide.”  Animals need care too!  CPR and First Aide training are the mainstays for the “boots on the ground” volunteers.

Nothing sets off a victim more than the media. Media Matters as told by long time CUE supporter, South Carolina Outreach Coordinator, Brian McQueen. As News Director for the NBC affiliate in Columbia, you will find no one more dedicated and concerned with accuracy and compelling coverage of missing persons families. He’s a true soldier in the fight for awareness!

“The Heart: The Victim’s Hour Presentations”

Listening to and relating our true life ordeals and experiences with violent crime and missing persons is the most difficult and heart wrenching aspect of the CUE Center Conference. Sometimes intimidated by the microphone, victims are gripped with emotion, trying to organize their thoughts, often through their tears conveying the circumstances and how very much their loved one is missed. They speak of personal qualities; special moments shared and lost opportunities for the future. This act is repeated informally over and over throughout the Conference. It is the “lifeblood” of the CUE- this give and take of educating and healing.  And, in the telling the first time, I believe families are set on the path of survivorship.   This year’s family representatives spoke of missing loved ones: Bonnie Santiago, Janet “Renee” Field, Jason Bolton and Christopher Douthat.

A special source of pride for me was the fact that five Connecticut based detectives were in attendance at this conference from New Haven’s Cold Case Unit and the Town of West Haven (where the University of New Haven and the Henry Lee Institute of Forensic Science is located.) I was nervous in the beginning, for new people often feel like a “fish out of water.”  I did what I could to facilitate and then others took over to have conversations in various and sundry places and late into the night. One such conversation I participated in with Monica and “the Connecticut Five.”  Monica was at her best, full of information, and engaging all of us well into the wee hours.  Four hours of sleep that night, but it was so worth it. Monica and her team paved the way to truly understanding the families’ plight for these detectives by the end of the Conference. I was so proud!

It is in these late night discussions that ideas about cases and future collaborations are forged. This is the true magic that occurs without much effort for everyone gives freely from the heart. Nothing else matters!

What Victims Really Want

Monica spoke from the heart at the State Outreach Coordinators’ orientation and at the start of Sunday’s wrap-up. Her sage advice resonated with those who know, who have been part of the fabric of the CUE, adding their family stories to the thousands of families served in 20 plus years. Her ability to always be sensitive to families needs first and foremost and recall the most salient facts when illustrating a point is nothing short of amazing. As an audience, what we take away is of greatest importance. Each uses a “personal yardstick” to measure success. I was struck by her presentation recounting “fact or fiction” in the missing persons world.  Better to debunk the myths than to assume we always know the facts and understand every nuance.

What Families Can Do After the Tent has Folded and the Circus has Left Town was a skillful metaphor used to demonstrate that families need to be very much part of the equation.  We cannot wallow in grief. We must go to work, for with hard work, healing comes. Taking initiative with the assistance of others, building community is empowering. On this journey,   we will not only survive, but thrive and blossom!  I have seen it a thousand times! It is in this context that we set the building blocks for a future resolution with “person power” and faith in God.

The National Candlelight Service

Families honored at the National Candlelight Vigil

Families honored at the National Candlelight Vigil

The procession began with several busses proceeding along the approximately eight mile route with a full police escort, sirens blazing, stopping traffic along the route to the site of the service! This ceremonial gesture, I believe, was a first, and testament to the respect that law enforcement holds for Monica Caison and the CUE Center.   It certainly was a prideful moment for all of us who witnessed it!  The magic of the WWII USS North Carolina Battleship on the brisk ,but tolerably cool night,  against the backdrop of the Cape Fear River in Downtown Wilmington was the scene of the  moving tribute to persons gone missing.  Loved ones were in attendance to represent them, as well as civilian and law enforcement advocates. It was time to award the many who have contributed and those who have passed.  The beautiful color photo memorial wall featuring several dozen victims was unveiled and shone against the lights and hearts of all who participated.   Two musical tributes by Heather Cohen were breathtaking. We also appreciated the talent, wit and “peppering humor” of MC, local TV personality, Sandra McClammy and the inspirational words of Reverend Angie Davis.   Special honorees this year included the families for Gerald Graham, Angie Pipkin and Alysha Tucker.  Two Musical Tributes by Heather Cohen and the inspirational Reverend Angie Davis.

The Heart From My Perspective

Families of those who go missing, or are survivors of homicide, no matter how it occurs, do not want “closure.” This term is a misnomer so frequently used by law enforcement, the media and the legal profession.  Closure is not possible. We have wounded hearts that will forever be damaged. Closure implies that there is a timeline sequence – a beginning, middle and end to grief and pain. An end is a final act. Concerning missing persons in particular, your psyche is perpetually in a “state of suspended animation” if you will – waiting for the other shoe to drop, the next tip to come in or waiting for a person to “grow a conscience.” It is never ending! It is torture! You can see it in their faces, you can hear it in their voices. The term “resolution” is more appropriate as it is more accurate and describes what is happening similar to “chapters of your life.”  The event (i.e. My father’s homicide) will never go away totally for me, although it may fade. BUT, I have successfully made it through many chapters. Each chapter leads to the next. We can never “close the book totally,” but we can achieve a resolution at the stage we are in.

To distill it to its core, when dealing with the uninformed general public, and the media who deals in sound bites, victims need a sense of purpose in their journey versus the ill-conceived “closure.”  A sense of closure means something to do that is productive which contributes to the overall effort of finding their loved one. They cannot sit idly by. Sometimes there is a fine line between “helping/doing what comes natural” and “interfering “with the investigation.  Therefore, the case manager and the police must assess the situation and assign the family a task(s) that will help and at the same time empower them. Such tasks might be small in the overall scheme, but vital just the same. Examples: Gathering photos, constructing a timeline of the last days as they recall their loved one’s activities. If there is a search, purchasing food and water for teams etc.

The Passage Award in Memory of Susan Murphy Milano

Marshia Morton receives the Passage Award

Marshia Morton receives the Passage Award

This award is given to an individual, who has suffered the loss of a loved one by being a missing person, victim of homicide or one that has survived the cruelties from intimate partner violence. This award recognizes the survivor that has healed and who has risen above to contribute oneself to those who remain in need of guidance, empowerment, support and who continually hold a devotion to the cause in memory of Susan Murphy Milano.

This year’s recipient of the Passage Award – Marshia Morton – an excellent choice, who quietly assists in several capacities for the CUE and is a Missouri State Outreach Coordinator.

Another person who is beloved to the CUE organization for being a tireless advocate, as well as the father of a missing daughter, was Robert Cooke, of Georgetown Texas.  Until his death in November, 2014, he had the distinction of participating in every CUE Center Conference since its inception.  He was a special friend and supporter to Monica who is missed every day.  Tragically, his daughter, Rachel Cooke vanished while jogging in 2002 while visiting her parents. She remains missing.

A memorial scholarship for a fee paid conference was set up in his name and was awarded to Gail Soles, the mother of missing Crystal Gail Soles.

Finally, there were so many acts of random kindness from helping, listening , giving, sharing ,awarding expensive goods won (such as a guitar) and hugs throughout!

It humbled me to share my room with family members of one of the vigil honorees. The story of the loss of her daughter, Elisha Tucker is tragic, and only one of many which has befallen the family .

I thank those who assisted me especially Rachael Caison, Delilah Jones, Jerry Sigmon, and Sheryl McCollum for your special assistance and kindnesses. Let’s make it a great year filled with hope for families of the missing!

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CUE Center for Missing Persons

On the Road to Remember 2014 in Connecticut

I am a fine person in my own right with talents, and skills and hope for the future!

I am a person of every, race, creed, color, age, gender and ethnicity or circumstance.

I may have veered off the most direct or safest path…or someone else may have taken control such that my future is not what I wanted it to be.

However, I know that I am valued and loved and deserve the dignity of a rich and full life without judgment passed by others.

I am a missing person from this our state, or one of the 49 other states. 

I am someone’s child. 

Donna R. Gore “LadyJustice”

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I am happy to be embraced by the Cue Center for Missing Persons, for I know they will assist my family and law enforcement with every resource available.

Thank you for coming to hear my story.

There are many things that will be said about this year’s 2014 CUE Center for Missing Persons On the Road to Remember Tour. However, I tend to gravitate to special moments capturing humanity.

Why I was selected to be a potential tour stop, I do not know, I do remember the captivating description at the microphone offered by Monica about this tour and her heartache when particular locations have to be denied; among thousands of missing adults across this country, why families would have to clamor for attention is beyond all understanding.

Why media does not expand their definition of “breaking news” to include our ever-expanding list of “broken hearts for the missing” in Connecticut, even when there is no car crash, new murder, or other story of import to cover, I do not understand. (A New Haven Police photographer and a New Haven Register photographer were the exceptions- THANK YOU!)

Although the planning of this event began many months ago with many starts and  stops along the way, this  “perpetual plan ahead Coordinator” learned that an event could look like a choreographed ballet- complete with butterflies, ribbons, and balloons in a short time.

Life is about timing and in the end, the stately Connecticut State Police Museum and Education Center was the perfect venue and backdrop for our hosting. On May 29, 1903, Governor Abiram Chamberlain signed House Bill #247 which authorized the creation of the Connecticut State Police, the first of its kind in the country.

1901262_704453792973980_5124058894255109536_nAs I parked my car about 8:30 a.m. waiting for everyone else to arrive in the presence of the morning dew and brilliant sunshine, I wondered what this would turn out to be.  Would the families come? Would law enforcement come? Would the media come? Would we be ready when Monica and her staff arrived?  Not to worry! Not easy for a person who wants such things to be “near perfect.”

The detectives of the Connecticut State Police, particularly, Tonya Campagnone and her team, and Sergeant Elisa Tuozzoli and colleagues, Ann Mays and Jessica Agosto of the New Haven Missing Persons Unit, soon arrived to assist in unpacking my cram-filled car. A stress fracture did not keep this Coordinator down in the least! In fact, I couldn’t recall feeling pain-maybe because I was focusing on other people’s pain. What a great healing method!

Where to put things? Better here, or over there? Do we have enough tables?  Food and drink generously donated by New Haven restaurants and real bathroom facilities, were relative luxuries on this grueling journey.

NamUS posters told the story before the families arrived. Their photos haunted me. I wondered what was their back story of which few spoke.

Families represented at event:

  • Evelyn Frisco– Missing since June 2004; New Haven, Contact New Haven Police- 203-946-6316- 5’2” Family present at event;
  • Jose Ortiz, Missing since December 2005- New Haven; Contact New Haven Police  203-946-6316; Family present at event;
  • Jerry Dolphin– 20 years old; Missing since October 1994- New Haven; Contact New Haven Police; Family present at event;
  • William Paul Smolinski, Jr – Missing since August 2004-Waterbury; Contact New Haven CT FBI 203-777-6311, Case # 62D-NH-44785; NamUS MP # 43;
  • Lisa Calvo– 40 years old; Missing since October 2005;  Height-4’11” Contact New Haven Police; Family present at event;
  • Bernadine Paul – 38 years old; Hispanic; Missing since June 2000; Contact Waterbury Police -203-574-6941; Case # 00-45074;                            NamUS MP # 392; ;
  • Ande Fan– Asian Male 5’4” Missing since August 2004- New Haven; Contact New Haven Police;
  • Marquita Jones – Missing since Summer of 2011- Hill area of  New Haven;  Contact New Haven Police;   5’ 2” Nicknames – “Keighia,” “Kecia,” “Luv.” Quita Luv
  • Mary E. Badaracco– 53 years old,  Missing since August 1984; Sherman, CT; Contact your local law enforcement Case # A84277483; NamUS MP # 303; Family came after event; $50,000 Reward for more information;
  • Janice K. Pocket– 7 years old, Missing since July 1973- Tolland, CT ;  Contact CT State Police 860-779-4940; Case # 000000014; NamUS # 2555;
  • Debra Lee Speckler– Missing since July 1968-Vernon CT: Contact Vernon Police Department – 860-872-9126 ext. 289; Case # C-3710-68-J;                NamUS MP # 5426;
  • Lisa Joy White – Missing since November 1974-Vernon, CT; Contact Vernon Police Department – 860-872-9126 ext. 289; Case # 000000019; NamUS MP # 2559
  • Alyssiah Wiley–  20 years old;  Previously Missing—in Bridgeport  Remains located in Trumbull, CT in May 2013; Mother Corrinna Martin attended event.

New families were especially forthcoming while speaking both publically and one on one. Corrinna spoke of “establishing an intimate relationship of cooperation with their law enforcement”; hopes to locate daughter Evelyn Frisco, long missing, before her mother, Janet dies.

Others spoke of the evils of drugs, how Jerry Dolphin was on the threshold of new ventures and how this event tearfully opened wounds; the quest to find Billy Smolinski and the importance of NamUS legislation.

Retired State Police officer Jerry Longo was visibly moved and couldn’t take his eyes off of former 7-year-old Janice Pocket’s poster- missing while looking for butterflies. He stated soberly to me, “I remember her. I worked this case.”

A wonderful give and take was noted between families, law enforcement and Cue Members.  A  make shift “Memory wall” was set up along the ancient 1920 brick edifice behind the Museum, consisting of quilted swatches of missing persons around the country as well as the vivid CUE Road Tour color collage with all of the faces of the missing emblazoned on the poster just waiting for Monica and hope to arrive at their stop!

The visuals were quite powerful; a custom-made multicolored ribbon and butterfly tree, yellow butterfly badges for families to wear and yellow balloons that went careering into the heavens to join others.1925292_735282959875593_6019599327779758457_n

As a new Coordinator, I marveled at the way CUE Center Founder, Monica Caison, was able to instantly engage new families and provide comfort. I tried to keep my distance when I saw this happen.  I too was able to do the same with guests and as a veteran homicide survivor. It made me feel so good!

My one regret was that I was unable to get a photo with Monica. There was no time to talk or bond with a new Coordinator, unfortunately.  We did tour the Museum together for a few minutes in which she enthusiastically took photos and interacted with staff.

An honorable mention must be given for her dedicated staff of volunteers who helped navigate. They make it all come together with good humor considering their many duties, fatigue,“ and the road ahead.”  Elisa, David and Janeanne were gracious, as was Harlan Chavis who parted by saying, “See ya’ at the Conference.”

No story would be complete without a postscript or two:

As I was just about to depart, Beth Profeta, daughter of missing Mary Badaracco, rolled down her car window and announced, “She was here for the event.” I identified myself, (as I had not seen her in a few years). She was frazzled, mad and disappointed that she had “gone off course and gotten lost.”  We spent the next hour or so talking at the end of the Complex’s driveway, staged a few photos on her car hood and up against “a mighty oak tree” of dear mother, Mary Badaracco.

Cars were whizzing up the driveway to other buildings except for a distinguished looking gentleman approaching, proudly wearing a CT State Police cap and riding an adult three-wheeled tricycle.  He introduced himself, struck up a conversation with us, said he lived up the hill and this was part of his “stomping grounds.” I can’t recall his name, but he did proudly share with us that he was 99 years old and rode his bike on the grounds daily!

AMEN! The perfect ending to a perfect day!

On the Road to Remember 2014 in Connecticut