Please join us at Peace4 the Missing
Missing Persons Awareness and Support Network
The following chapter is the complete text excerpted from What to do When the Police Leave: A Guide to the First Days of Traumatic Loss, by Bill Jenkins.
As much as we would like to avoid unpleasantness in our lives, sometimes it is inescapable. Instead, we must learn how to grieve in healthy ways and work through our difficulties. If you are wondering what you can do to help a friend who is in intense mourning, here are some suggestions:
We have to go through this valley in order to get to the other side. Dealing with grief cannot be avoided. Help us get through this as well as we are able. Your true friendship and companionship, your kindness and patience can help us get our lives back together.
We will experience some level of grief over our loved one’s loss for the rest of our lives. Some days will simply be better than others. One day, we hope to reach a point where our good days outnumber the bad. That will be a major milestone for us.
Thank you for being here for us.
GRAND RAPIDS -- In 1996, Sherry Stewart Brown's parents, Columbus and Vera Stewart, went to her apartment on College Avenue NE carrying her favorite dessert, a peach cobbler, to celebrate her 33rd birthday.
When her father returned to the apartment three days later, the pie was half-eaten. And Brown had vanished.
It would be two years before her body was discovered in a ditch near Butterworth Avenue SW, and another four before it was identified and released to her family for burial.
"In my heart, I would think I heard her walking across the back porch," said Vera Stewart, who hopes for a break in the unsolved death that has them determined to find justice.
"We stand here today, opening our hearts back up," she said. "Somebody took my daughter's body and lay it in that ditch, and as long as I got breath in my body to speak for my daughter, we will do that."
Now, Silent Observer is hoping to reach out through a new series of public service announcements that feature members of the community who have lost loved ones to homicide, including the Stewarts. The group offers up to $1,000 for tips that lead to arrests and trials for unsolved crimes.
The service announcements, which began to air Thursday, were a joint effort between Silent Observer, Conqueror's support group and Delayed Justice, a Web site that tells the stories of open and unsolved homicides in Michigan.
Carolyn Priester started the group, "Conquerors," for survivors of violence and loved ones of murder victims or other violent crimes. Her 34-year-old son, Lee Randolph Priester, was shot and killed July 28, 2007 outside his house on Lafayette Avenue SE. No one has been arrested in the slaying.
Priester helped contact the families represented in the announcements.
"We strengthen one another," said Priester of the group. "These unsolved murders have left a void. Closure is partial when you find the person responsible, but we want justice."
David Schock, with Delayed Justice, produced the videos for Silent Observer at no charge.
"The Conquerors support group spoke to my heart," Schock said.
Mother-of-three Renee Pagel, 41, was found dead Aug. 5, 2006, of multiple stab wounds in her Courtland Township home.
"Revisiting it is not like going back because you're always there," said Pagel's sister, Michelle DeMaagd of Grand Rapids, who is featured in one of the announcements.
Police named Michael Pagel, her estranged husband who now is living in Prudenville with the couple's three children, as the only suspect. Michael Pagel has not been charged with any crime, and through his attorney he has maintained his innocence.
DeMaagd said there are always leads, but that there is not enough evidence to bring the case to trial.
"She deserves justice," said DeMaagd. Of the service announcement, she said: "It was difficult to do, but we definitely appreciate the opportunity to get a murderer off the streets."
The victims and their families
Mother Carolyn Priester started the group "Conquerors" for survivors of violence and loved ones of murder victims or other violent crimes. Her 34-year-old son, Lee Randolph Priester, was shot and killed July 28, 2007 outside his house on Lafayette Avenue SE. No one has been arrested in the slaying.
Renee Pagel, 41, was found dead Aug. 5, 2006, after suffering multiple stab wounds while in her Courtland Township home. Pagel's sister, Michelle DeMaagd, of Grand Rapids, is featured in the service announcement.
"She deserves justice," DeMaagd said. "It was difficult to do, but we definitely appreciate the opportunity to get a murderer off the streets.
Sherry Stewart Brown disappeared from her Grand Rapids apartment three days after her 33rd birthday in August 1996. A body thought to be Brown's was found in 1998 near Butterworth Avenue SW, but it was too decomposed to conclude how she died, authorities said. A long identification process began and in 2002, Brown's parents, Columbus and Vera Stewart, finally received the confirmation to bury their daughter. But Brown's cause of death still is undetermined and there are no suspects in her death.
Fran Molson still is looking for help to find her son's killer. Richard Dannah, 19, was at a party May 31, 2008 at 449 Adams St. SE when he was shot. "There were other kids in the backyard at the party -- they know what happened," Molson said.
Two masked gunmen in a minivan gunned down Willie E. Benson, 19, in the early hours of July 30, 2005 at Godwin Avenue SE and Dickinson Street. Relatives like Benson's sister, Pamela Webster, who is featured in the service announcement, still have no answers.
Chad McElwee, 34, was killed May 21, 2008 while sitting in his truck near Pleasant Street SE and Cass Avenue. Police said McElwee was slain by bullets meant for his unidentified passenger but no one has been arrested. The victim's mother, Patricia McElwee, took part in the service announcements.
E-mail Cassie Foss: email@example.com
(CNN) -- The parents of a California teen who disappeared on her way to school in February have closed the center that was the staging ground for search efforts, citing a lack of volunteers and a shift in direction.
Loved ones say Amber Leeanne DuBois, 14, would never go anywhere without telling her parents or friends.
But the parents of 14-year-old Amber DuBois say the search will continue with a small group of dedicated volunteers.
"We're absolutely going to keep going. Anyone who wants to volunteer can log onto Amber's site (http://www.bringamberhome.com/) and see where we're going to meet," Amber's father, Maurice DuBois, said.
The decision to close the center -- a nondescript, 7,500-square foot building donated by an Escondido businessman -- did not come easily.
"I don't want people to have the impression that we're giving up. I'm scared that the fact we're closing will make people stop volunteering, but we still need them because we won't stop looking until we find her," DuBois said.
Initially, hundreds volunteered to assist in the search for Amber, who was last seen walking to Escondido High School on February 13. Relatives, friends and members of the community have met at the center every weekend since to plan searches and pick up fliers for distribution throughout San Diego County.
As time passed without progress, the number of volunteers dwindled and leads slowed to a trickle, while bills for liability insurance, telephone service and electricity continued to come in.
Amber's mother said she never liked spending time at the center because it was a constant reminder that her daughter was missing. And while she is saddened by the implications of its closure, she maintains hope that the decision will help advance their efforts. Hear Amber's parents describe her childhood »
"It makes me sad because we used to have over 200 volunteers a day and now we have about 10," Carrie McGonigle said. "But people have lives, and even though I just want them to look for Amber, it's a lot of time to ask of someone. This way, we can use her search and rescue fund for getting the word out nationwide."
Based on the time and location where Amber was last seen on February 13 by two witnesses who knew her, she should have crossed in front of a school surveillance camera about 100 yards away, Escondido Police Lt. Bob Benton said.
But she never made it, and around the same time, a red truck appeared in surveillance camera footage from a school bus parking lot. The quality of the image prevents identification of the truck, and authorities are still seeking to find out why it was there, Benton said.
Otherwise, investigators have been stymied by a lack of viable leads.
The "good news" is that searchers have covered a large chunk of Escondido without finding a body, which means they can take a new approach, said Mark Klaas, founder and president of KlaasKids Foundation, a child safety advocacy group.
"They've combed the area and found nothing, so it's time for a new direction," said Klaas, who created the foundation in 1994 to give meaning to the kidnapping and murder of his daughter, Polly.
Klaas said he met with the family on the weekend to discuss the possibility that the bookish teen is a victim of a human trafficking ring that sold her into the sex trade.
"There's no doubt that there is a very robust and vigorous human trafficking problem in that part of the country, in and around San Diego, near the border. Unfortunately, you have to consider the scenarios: She's dead, she ran away or she was kidnapped," he said.
"It's about keeping hope alive and giving the family a way to remain proactive in the case," he said. "They have to keep hope alive because as soon as they throw in the towel, it's all over and there's no hope for this kid."
Benton said investigators were considering all potential angles, including the possibility that Amber had been abducted, but did not elaborate.
Amber's parents agree that it's up to them to keep the case alive, which is why they are expanding search efforts beyond San Diego County.
"At this point we've saturated San Diego County with fliers and publicity, so if she were in San Diego County and someone saw her, we'd know it by now," DuBois said.
"Four months is a long time. I feel she was abducted by a stranger and who knows where she could be at this point. She could be anywhere. It's very difficult to think about, but it's a harsh reality."
They left out the courtroom, the woman asked to speak with her son’s father for a moment.“Why are you doing this? We had an agreement.” He smiled. “Had, meaning past tense.
We no longer have an agreement. All I am going to tell you is watch your back. You have pissed off a lot of people in this town who want to see you go down.” He excused himself and left.
Later that day, the woman met privately with someone from city government, hoping they would be able to provide answers to her questions.
“You have not only embarrassed the city, you cost them a tremendous amount of money in assisting families by filing wrongful deathlawsuits on their behalf.”
“What are you talking about, she asked?”
“You heard me,” said the city official.
“Who is behind this?” she demanded to know.
“I am not at liberty to disclose details. I will tell you that you better re-think how you are assisting your clients. Make sure you have release forms indicating you are an advocate, not a lawyer and signed by every single client. Cause they ain’t finished with you yet. Lay low for awhile. I would not do any media interviews if I were you. Tighten your seat belt, you are in for a bumpy ride”
The woman thanked him for his time and left. The woman’s divorce had turned into another war.
She had no strength left to fight this battle. Her son, like so many women who lose custody of their children as another way to manipulate and control their victims was now a casualty of the cruel and common tactics often used in divorce as one parent attempts to send the other out for slaughter. This experience was similar to what the woman witnessed while helping others to whom she had provided assistance, watching while abusers continued to victimize women and their children, as they were ending the relationship with the person.
As with all battered women her emotional mental stability became a major issue before the judge in court, due to accusations from the son’s father, citing that she had grown up in a violent household and how her father had killed her mother in 1989.
Yes, the woman I speak of is me.
“She’s crazy!” the lawyer said during the next status hearing in court, using newspaper articles about me advocating for other victims and my parents’ death certificates to make his irrelevant point. He waived them like a flag in front of the judge. Proving his ignorance of victimology he exclaimed “your Honor, we ask the court to consider the public life lived and led by the plaintiff.
She speaks, lives and breathes her parents’ tragedy.
At this time we feel it is in the best interest of the minor child and his safety to ask that continued temporary custody be awarded to my client, the child’s father, until such time as Ms. Murphy-Milano can be seen by a psychiatrist to determine her fitness as a parent. Additionally, we have filed a motion with the court ordering a mental health evaluation.”
In disbelief my lawyer said “Your honor, I object. The only harm being done to the minor child is this child's father denying access to his mother. If council is so insistent on a mental health assessment, then I respectfully ask the court for an evaluation on Mr. Milano,” responded my lawyer. I sat at the table with my attorney, stunned by the lies from my son’s father. My attorney objected to the motion, saying there was no basis for the allegations the other side was presenting.
“Conveniently taking what my client does to help others is not a valid reason to deny visitation or remove custody. Your Honor, the respondent has manufactured lies, there is no proof to back up these outrageous allegations,”said my attorney.
“It’s best for the child that we err on the side of caution,” responded the judge.
The judge ruled that both my son’s father and I schedule mental health evaluations with a person chosen by the courts. In the meantime, no decision would be made as to when I would be allowed to have visitation with my son. The judge wanted to wait until after the mandated evaluations.
I knew this process could take months. It was clear my son’s father was angry with me for ending the marriage, and he was going to use my son to teach me a painful lesson. Denying access to my son was devastating. Now I was in the same boat without oars to row, like many other women to whom I had provided assistance. More importantly, my son was a helpless pawn in his father’s sick game. With the tables reversed, I was alone. I had similar feelings when my mother died. My son had been ripped away from me. I knew where all of this was headed and I wanted no part of it. I was unable to fight both the legal system and now my son’s father.
Whoever was behind this master plan wanted me out of the way. The words my son’s father used in court were like daggers thrown at perfect aim, straight at my heart. Because the court records to my divorce had been sealed, any hope of regaining visitation or custody of my son was sealed as well. The powers that be knew the media would have no access to the divorce case file. And would likely not investigate what was happening in the divorce proceeding because the proceedings and records were closed off to the public.The legal system and the political machine were punishing me for refusing to play ball. The divorce was final with custody issues in reserve to be revisited at a later date.
Suddenly, I did not feel worthy as a mother. I questioned my faith in the legal system and in God.
People use fear to silence other people. For nearly 2o years that tactic has worked on me, until now. Pandora's box has been opened and without my knowledge. The 1993, seal on my divorce lifted and the contents now open to the public for which I have provided a link HERE for anyone interested. (Case Information Cook County, Illinois, Summary for Case Number 1993D012470)
I only learned the file was unsealed after receiving a phone call from a person from another State where I resided from 2000-2006. My son's father was well aware that I moved back to Illinois. And I have documentation of our correspondence from my son's father at my Cook County, Illinois, mailing address. Once again he has used a back handed method to have a legal case proceed without my knowledge. I was not legally or properly served. It also shows on the court docket computer screen that I "participated" in a few hearings which makes me wonder if my former husband had a woman in court pretending to be me?
Besides being a mother, wife, grandmother, sister and daughter, Marianne enjoys reading, music and art, and she loves animals. She also enjoys spending time with her family.Searching diligently for her daughter has become a way of life she would trade for anything.Missing Persons Awareness and Support Network
them from his sister's house in Hudsonville, to live in a private hunting compound (Mid Forest Lodge) in Prudenville, Michigan, near Houghton Lake.
A perpetrator expects a female to try to run away, cower, beg, plead and/or cry. When she steps into the storm, it messes him up as he isn’t use to this reaction. There are many things that a female can learn to do to protect herself.
Learning self-defense not only helps prevent attacks but also builds self-esteem. Individuals learn to determine their personal, physical and emotional boundaries.
Consider training to be “Life Extension Insurance”.
Training is offered to females starting at age 5.
No pass or fail; just a commitment to yourself AND EMPOWERMENT.
There are no guarantee’s in any personal safety/self-defense training course. However, it’s better to do something rather than nothing. Again, knowledge is a powerful tool.
A self-defense course can empower you with a few techniques and ideas to interrupt an assault long enough to escape. There are no guarantees. Anyone can be victimized even if you have taken a self-defense course. Once you’ve completed a self-defense course it’s up to you to put the information you gained to work for you in your day-to-day life.
by Susan Murphy-Milano