To honor the missing

Vicki Kelly
Mail Tribune / Jim Craven

Vicki Kelly�s son, Thomas, has been missing since January 1999, when he was 17. Kelly has channeled her guilt and grief into raising awareness about missing children.


When Vicki Kelly last saw her son, Tommy, she walked away without saying a word.

Tommy Kelly, then 17, was having problems at school. His mother believes he was using drugs.

"I just didn�t know how to deal with the situation," Kelly said of the day her son walked into her Phoenix area home with a man whom she suspected was a drug dealer. "I just turned around and went to the back of the house."

She didn�t know that more than a year later she�d be thinking about that moment and how to take it back.

"There is tremendous guilt," Kelly said. "I�ve chastised myself repeatedly for turning away."

There�s nothing Kelly can do about that, or the fact that her son, now two weeks shy of 19, has been missing since Jan. 26, 1999.

So Kelly has focused her energy on working with a national organization to shed light on the issue.

Thursday is National Missing Children Day. May 25 was set aside in 1983 by then-President Reagan to honor the hundreds of thousands of children reported missing each year.

Kelly is working with a producer to create a television program about missing children.

"I had to do something, so I�ve become pro-active," she said. "Not just for Tommy � for all the kids."

Nationwide, about 795,000 children are reported missing annually, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. About 350,000 are believed to be abducted by noncustodial parents, another 5,000 taken by strangers or people outside the family, and 440,000 are lost or injured. It�s unclear how many of those children are returned to their families.

In Southern Oregon, at least 12 children are listed as missing by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Some were abducted by noncustodial parents, but most of the disappearances baffle parents and authorities. One Prospect man vanished nearly 22 years ago, when he was 14.

Investigations in at least two cases � those of Tommy Kelly and Kaelin Glazier, who vanished from Ruch in December 1996 � have turned up lots of rumors but few real leads, says Eric Fox, a detective at the Jackson County Sheriff�s Office.

"That�s all it is. It�s just speculation," Fox said of various sightings and other tips from the public. "There�s just no facts."

Tommy Kelly was last seen running through a field near Pioneer Road, covered in mud, with his face torn and bloodied by blackberry bushes. That was about an hour after his mother saw him at their Coleman Creek Road home in Phoenix. Tommy ran to two men and begged for their help, saying, "They�re after me."

The first man went inside his house to call for help, but Tommy kept running. The second man was unable to stop the boy.

"He�s never been seen or heard from since," his mother said.

There is no evidence of foul play, but Kelly dismisses the suggestion that Tommy simply ran away.

"He left his pager, which he always carried. He left his wallet, his identification. He didn�t show up to work to get his paycheck ... so it wasn�t a runaway situation," said Kelly, who doesn�t know if she�ll ever see her son again. "But I have hope. That�s all I can say."

In Kaelin Glazier�s case, the girl was last seen Nov. 6, 1996, after visiting a friend who lived on Johnson Road in Ruch.

"I don�t expect to see her again this side of heaven," said Kaelin�s mother, Kimberly Cruz. Cruz and officials suspect foul play in Kaelin�s disappearance.

Jackson County deputies named a "person of interest," Billy Frank Simmons, 19, in January 1999 but never charged him in the case.

Like Kelly, Cruz said she understands she may never know what happened to her daughter, who was 15 when she vanished.

"That�s a reality you accept little by little," Cruz said. "Then you just put the child in God�s hands."

But the uncertainty is difficult to handle, Cruz and Kelly say.

"It�s having questions with no answers and grief with no closure," added Kelly, who wants parents to learn what steps to take when when a child is missing.

Most important: Parents should act immediately after they realize a child is missing, according to the National Center for Missing Children, a nonprofit organization mandated by Congress to work with law enforcement and other agencies to prevent crimes against children.

"First make sure the child is missing � that he�s not next door playing, in the basement or attic," said Shirley Goins, executive director at the center�s Tustin, Calif., branch. "Then call law enforcement immediately. Don�t wait."

Police should be called within an hour, she said, Goins said.

Parents also should close off the child�s room, preserve clothing or stuffed toys (tracking dogs use them to get a scent), and turn off home computers so officials can trace the child�s steps on the Internet.

Within 24 hours, police are required to enter a missing child under age 18 into the FBI�s National Crime Information Center database.

Once a child is in the database, the national missing children�s center uses the information to create posters sent out nationwide.

"Those kinds of things are a parent�s best hope of finding their child again," said Cruz. "So you do everything in your power to let people know your child is missing."

The posters, however, work only if people take time to stop and look at them, Kelly said.

"I want people to get involved. I don�t want people to just stop and look and say, �Well that�s too bad,"� she said. "I don�t see how we can stop the evil coming at our children, but we can make people more aware."

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