According to Kim

Reflection on Missing Persons Day

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Grief and hope for the vanished

Family, friends and law enforcement gather for state’s annual Missing Persons Day

ALBANY — Gwen Hobbs sat Sunday with a box of Kleenex on her lap in an auditorium at the State Museum, pulling a tissue out every so often to dab her eyes. She was thinking about her sister.

Hobbs was among more than 200 people, including police investigators, who turned out for the seventh annual New York state Missing Persons Day.

For grieving families and friends, as well as the cops who keep the case files of those who have vanished within arm’s reach, every day is missing persons day.

Sponsored by the Center for Hope in Ballston Spa — the nonprofit enterprise started by Doug and Mary Lyall after their daughter Suzanne went missing more than 10 years ago from the University at Albany — the day is a time for people with missing or abducted loved ones to come together.

In 2001, then-Gov. George Pataki declared April 6 as state Missing Persons Day in recognition of Suzy Lyall’s birthday. This year, it was more heartbreaking than usual for the Lyalls on the day their daughter would have turned 30.

“On April 6, 1978, our family anxiously awaited the birth of our daughter,” Mary Lyall told the gathering. She broke down in recalling Suzy arrived at 4:33 p.m.

Now, “we are awaiting her return,” the mother said. She spoke of the “unimaginable pain … the feeling of hopelessness. You become frozen in time.”

Suzy Lyall, then a 19-year-old sophomore and computer science major, vanished on March 2, 1998, after stepping off a CDTA bus at Collins Circle on the Washington Avenue campus at 9:45 p.m., after returning from work at a Crossgates Mall computer store.

In her invocation, the Lyalls’ 38-year-old daughter Sandy, of East Longmeadow, Mass., said the day should serve as the means where “healing begins and hope illuminates our path.”

Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, the master of ceremonies, mentioned the “quiet desperation I know many of you are living with right now.”

Hobbs could relate to that. The 53-year-old Schenectady resident said her sister, Connie Marie Hobbs, 42, of Beacon, Dutchess County, disappeared in April 2005.

Last year, the remains of her sister’s jaw and teeth were found. “We do not have all of her remains,” said Hobbs, who has given authorities her DNA.

But most upsetting was what Hobbs said she learned on Sunday from a friend. Her sister had been a witness in a drug trial three weeks before she went missing. The defendant in the case was acquitted. Police never told her about that, Hobbs said. “I did not have an inkling.” It’s an angle she wants police to pursue.

The gathering at the museum’s Cultural Education Center remembered Audrey May Herron, the Catskill nurse; Latham college student Joshua Szostak; 12-year-old Jaliek Rainwalker of Greenwich; Craig Frear of Scotia; Frank Connell of Rensselaer, and dozens more, young and old, recent disappearances and some from years ago. In a touching moment, their faces were projected on a large screen.

More than 3,500 people are listed as officially missing statewide, and more than 1,400 of them are over 18, Doug Lyall said.

Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand worked with the Lyalls on legislation for a national day to remember missing Americans. The bill passed the House of Representatives and Senate, but President Bush declined to sign it, she said. She’s hoping for better luck with a new president.

She also called for a national mandate that campus security and state and local law enforcement coordinate efforts in investigating felonies or missing students.

T-shirts bearing photos of those missing were hung on the stage below about 35 framed photos of missing people. Visitors came from more than a dozen states and Canada.

Brittny Kissinger sang “Whispers,” written by her brother, Zachary Kissinger, for his childhood friend, Suzanne Lyall, which brought tears to eyes of the Lyalls and the crowd.

Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings said DNA testing is critical in such cases and called the Lyalls “two of the people I most admire.”

The Lyalls have had Cold Case Playing Cards printed, a deck of 52, each with a photo and information of a missing person.

This year’s HOPE Recognition Award went to the New York state Sheriffs’ Association. Accepting was Warren County Sheriff Bud York, who was a State Police investigator in the major crimes unit in Loudonville and worked on the Suzy Lyall case.

“It’s amazing how strongly these folks have held up,” York said of the Lyalls.

George Adams of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System at the University of North Texas was keynote speaker. He stressed the importance of family providing DNA samples.

NAMUS, which falls under the National Institute of Justice, has 614 cases of missing or unidentified dead people.

The day ended at the New York state Missing Persons Remembrance, a 20-foot-tall sculpture at Madison and Swan streets, where the group placed candles.

http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=678639

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Written by Kim

April 7, 2008 at 8:34 am

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