An agony of searching, waiting

Families of missing people gather to support each other and ask for help

October 02, 2006|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,sun reporter

Sandra Hopkins compares what's happened to her life to a shipwreck, a calamity where the ocean liner sinks, and she surfaces alone. No other survivors. No wreckage.

But in the 16 months since her son, William Michael Hogan - known as Mike - then 28, disappeared from a therapeutic work program for the mentally ill in Vermont, Hopkins, 60, of Bel Air, has come to know many other survivors from other, similar "shipwrecks."

Yesterday scores of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends of eight missing Marylanders gathered at historic Baldwin Hall in Millersville to pray and remember their absent loved ones, and to gather strength, hope and help from each other.

Heartbroken and frustrated, they also took the opportunity to prod the police, the news media and the public to do more, and to care more about the thousands of Marylanders who have gone missing over the years, most without all-out investigations or front-page headlines.

"I think that a lot of adults who go missing are found within a few days," Hopkins said. "Because of that, police feel, `Why put in all this effort?' Often they'll say, `They're an adult. ... They have a right to be missing.'"

So, like many other kin to the missing, Hopkins and her ex-husband - Mike Hogan's father, also William Michael Hogan - are left to do much of their own investigation. They've traveled back and forth to Vermont and to California, where their son, apparently homeless, was last seen. They've prodded police, and reporters, and well-meaning locals. But they've returned empty-handed.

Janet Sydnor says she's done some of her own sleuthing into the disappearance of her brother, James Clark Creighton, who would now be 48 and who vanished from Princess Anne in December 2000.

Sydnor says she's turned her findings over to police on the Eastern Shore. The case is regarded as a likely homicide. The family believes he was involved in a drug-related dispute shortly before his disappearance.

"I even found an eyewitness," Sydnor said. But there's been no prosecution, and she suspects it's because her brother was a drug abuser and low on the priority list for police.

After yesterday's service, she was livid that no Maryland law enforcement agency sent a representative. "What it says to me is, `We don't care,'" she said. "`If we didn't show up, it didn't occur.'"

One retired Baltimore County detective did attend - Sam Bowerman, who is married to the sister of Bernadette Stevenson Caruso. Caruso disappeared 20 years ago after leaving her job at an Eastpoint Mall jewelry store to meet her estranged husband.

Caruso left behind her 3-year-old daughter, now 23. No one has been charged in the disappearance.

"We have task forces to deal with drugs ... gangs ... credit card fraud. And today in the state of Maryland we have a task force to deal with stolen cars," Bowerman said. "But there is no such task force to deal with missing adults. It's long overdue."

Solid numbers are hard to come by. Bowerman said 46,000 adults were reported missing in the United States in 2004.

Kylen Johnson of the Maryland Missing Persons Network said in the six years since the organization began assembling the data, it has listed as many as 6,000 old missing-persons cases, and hundreds of unidentified people or remains.

The group's volunteers have managed to cross-match some Maryland cases with people found here and in other states, helping to solve 12 cases so far. Nurses have begun to check the network's Web site (www.mary to help identify people who land in the hospital unable to speak for themselves.

But for Sandra Hopkins, the agony of fruitless leads and the absence of her only child grinds on into its second year.

She describes Mike Hogan as bright and personable, but increasingly troubled by obsessive compulsive disorder, for which he was taking eight medications. He was seen last April in a park in Ventura, Calif. But Hopkins and her husband were unable to find him, despite their trips to California and work with local police and media. "I don't know what to do anymore," she said.

So she leaves a message on her answering machine in case Mike calls. It says his family loves him, and how he can get help.

Her agony is less intense now, she said. "We couldn't live like that forever. But I still look at messages and still hope maybe it's from him."

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