Other missing women merit same attention as Dru Sjodin

December 22, 2003|By Kristal Brent Zook

NEW YORK -- Along with Dru Sjodin, the missing North Dakota woman, thousands of other people likely will also fail to find their way home this holiday season.

But they are dismissed as too old or unattractive, too poor or tattooed or mentally unhinged to elicit the same response as Ms. Sjodin -- a blond, 22-year-old college student at the University of North Dakota who looked forward to a promising white-collar career.

To read the Center for Missing Adults' gallery of lost names is a lesson in heartbreak (www.nmco.org).

There is 22-year-old Tyesha Patrice Bell of Aurora, Ill. Ms. Bell, who is black, was last seen at her home in the early morning hours of May 10.

Angela Marie Simpson, 19, from Boca Raton, Fla., is listed as white/Hispanic and was last seen at 2 a.m. May 16 at a halfway house, which she left on foot.

And there's also 19-year-old Vanessa Maria Gonzales, who is Hispanic. She was getting out of an acquaintance's vehicle in Modesto, Calif., when she disappeared Nov. 1.

Most of us will never know what happened to these women or what their lives were like before they were lost. And we will never hear word when their friends and families officially call off their own private searches, fearing the worst. Sadly, not even a fraction of the time and energy spent publicizing the Dru Sjodin case will be dedicated to these women.

Countless others are in danger every day.

They are victims of domestic violence. They are the elderly. They are the young who live in the borderlands between family and the streets. But their profiles are not deemed newsworthy.

Ms. Sjodin's wholesome story made good news copy. So did the salacious narrative surrounding her Nov. 22 disappearance: There was the Victoria's Secret boutique where she worked, the walk to the parking lot and the alleged abduction by Alfonso Rodriguez, a Hispanic male and a known sexual predator and rapist.

More than 1,300 volunteers have worked tirelessly for weeks looking for Ms. Sjodin. By early December, both the Minnesota and North Dakota National Guard had joined in the search, along with 30 FBI agents and special investigators from Canada.

No such flurry of activity followed the disappearance of Angelina Wells from Mesa, Ariz., in April. But then again, Ms. Wells is a 47-year-old black woman. She wears glasses, has a scar above her right eye and wears her hair in a small, neat but not necessarily fashionable curl. Ms. Wells was reported missing after a family member found the front door to her home open, with her purse and other personal belongings inside.

Deborah Lynn Gracia's September disappearance also went unnoticed by the nation. The 41-year-old woman from Riverside, Calif., listed as white/American Indian, was overweight, missing several teeth and visibly scarred.

Now we're told that the search for Ms. Sjodin will wind down after the sad discovery of her blood in the suspect's car. Although her tenacious family refuses to give up hope that she may still be found alive, others are preparing for mourning.

The Pequot Lakes, Minn., community, Ms. Sjodin's hometown, organized a candlelight vigil Tuesday in her honor. Maybe someone there will light a candle for the other 40,000 missing adults whose families are also heartbroken, and whose fate, like Ms. Sjodin's, remains unknown.

Kristal Brent Zook is an adjunct professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Columnist Cynthia Tucker is scheduled to return Jan. 5.

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