http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_20097257#ixzz1o9w9OBNgWhen loved ones go missing, hope is "the only thing you have left"
POSTED: 03/04/2012 01:00:00 AM MST By Joey Bunch
The Denver Post
Connie and Paul Sacco of Greeley reflect on their daughter, Aubrey, whose picture hangs on the wall. They see symbols of Aubrey's spirit all over. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)
For the friends and family of the missing, hope struggles with reality and grief around the clock. That's what becomes of the brokenhearted. "You can't really grieve, because grieving is a process, and we don't have an ending," said Connie Sacco of Greeley, whose daughter, Aubrey, has been missing in Nepal since 2010. "It's the worst and most intense frustration a parent can feel," said Sacco's husband, Paul.
But there remains an eye on the open door, the blind faith that comes from not knowing for sure.
The grief is as specific as the smell of clothes from the missing loved one, but it is not unique.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation has 309 names in its missing-persons cold-case file, an average of almost five per county.
The FBI's National Crime Information Center database includes nearly 86,000 missing people.
Each year, an average of 4,400 unidentified human remains are found, and 1,000 of them will stay unidentified. Morgues are holding 40,000 sets of remains, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In each of the past three years, news of a missing Coloradan has spurred national attention, yet searchers seem no closer to bringing home Sacco, Amy Ahonen
of Denver or Gerald Myers of Centennial.
Ahonen didn't show up for work at Red Lobster on July 8, the afternoon before her 38th birthday. Her Jeep was found in a turnout on U.S. 6 in Clear Creek Canyon.
Myers was last seen in 2009 near the summit of Alaska's Mount McKinley. He never came down.
Finding out what happened will not be the final answer, said Tony Lee of Denver. His daughter, 19-year-old Kenia Monge, was abducted in downtown Denver last April. Her killer, Travis Forbes, confessed and led authorities to her body in a Weld County field on Sept. 7, five months and seven days later.
"It's better to know and it's better not to know at the same time," Lee said. "You hope your case is going to be that miracle, like that (Elizabeth) Smart girl, even though a reasonable person knows that's probably not going to be the case.
"But when you know you know, and then you have a whole new set of stuff to deal with. Knowing is not the end, it's the beginning of other stuff. We're still dealing with that stuff every day."
Lee said his wife recently brought up that they identified Kenia through fingerprints, and maybe the family should have insisted on DNA — to make sure.
"Hope is that hard a thing to let go of," he said. "It's the only thing you have left."
The newest name in the CBI's missing-persons cold-case file is Amy Ahonen, No. 11703 in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System database.
When Kacey Wilkins thinks of her bubbly friend, she remembers being too pregnant and tired to meet her for dinner at a restaurant. A half-hour later, Amy showed up at the door with a feast and her cheery, dimpled smile.
"I think of all the times she was there for people," Wilkins said on a cold Saturday morning outside Park Hill Village Condos, where Ahonen used to live.
The day after Ahonen was reported missing, 50 people met at her church, Epiphany Lutheran, near Washington Park, to make a plan to bring her home. The passion was tremendous.
"We were all in complete disbelief and shock, but at the same time, you realize something has to be done," Wilkins recalled from that rainy week last summer.
They hung posters. They started websites. They raised money for billboards. Her Facebook page has nearly 10,350 fans. It hasn't been enough.
"I thought I saw you across a crowded room last night," one of Ahonen's four siblings, Andrea, posted on the Facebook page last Sunday, "... but, it wasn't you. It made me sad. I miss you so much!"
In interviews, Andrea Ahonen has said, "Day to day, you just do what you can to get by."
She said her parents "don't talk about it much, but you can see the hurt. They just don't know what to do anymore or how to help further. Most of us feel that way."
Ensign — try to keep up the spirits of the larger group.
"What do you do when there's nothing more you can do? You try to think of something else, you go on to the next thing and do that," Wilkins said.
Tate is pregnant and eager to tell Amy the news. Her husband named his Friday night hockey team "Amy's Heroes," in honor of the sport she played on co-ed teams around town.
"When Amy comes back," Tate said, "I don't want to be sitting around on my couch, not doing anything. I want to be able to say I did everything I could."
Peace on the mountain
Marcia McCarroll has stared down the demons, disbelief, abandonment and crippling grief.
She knew Myers was dead the second day after her common-law husband of seven years and "one and only true love" was reported missing on unforgiving Mount McKinley in 2009.
A climber herself, who had stood by as Myers planned every detail of the trip for three years, McCarroll knew there was no chance he had survived. Accepting that fact was another matter.
She pretended to move. She gave away most of his gear to other climbers so that his spirit could go with them. She poured herself into her job as a pharmacist at Denver Health Medical Center. But inside, she began to seethe with confusion and anger.
Did Myers, a passionate alpha-male mountaineer and safety fanatic, catch summit fever before he left his hiking companions behind at base camp? That was something he would have strongly opposed in his ordinary, rational state. McCarroll is sure of that.
Did he get reckless — robbing her, their stable of pets, his friends and patients of such a good, funny man? How could he have been so selfish?
For most of that time, she could not bear to look at the mountains, the very things that in 2004 brought her and Gerald west from Pennsylvania.
After a year and a half of pretending, she took time off, went back east and reconnected with the people who understood her. She made peace without closure.
McCarroll clings to memories of a conversation most couples have: what each would do if something happened to the other. Gerald was adamant that she make the most of her life — no questions, no tears.
She climbs regularly now and always takes along at least one piece of gear or clothing that belongs to Gerald — for good luck and good memories, and to bring him forward with her.
He told her often that everyone has a story, and he had a great one, she said. He was a smart kid who left home at 16. He was a star in the Army, a University of Pittsburgh graduate, a compassionate chiropractor and a true friend to his patients.
Gerald died at the peak of life, accomplishing his greatest mountaineering feat — at the summit of one of the world's tallest and most-celebrated mountains.
"He belongs to the mountain," McCarroll said. "I hope they don't find him. I don't know if he belonged anywhere else. I do know the mountains are the place he always wanted to be."
The water-colored ribbons in the yard of the Saccos' tall brick home are faded and tattered in the bare trees — victims of Colorado's winter wind.
They call their home Glitterville, because their spirited, precocious daughter loved the sparkly stuff. Bright colors splash across the scores of paintings she created for nearly every room of the big house. Instruments and photographs commemorate all the music she conquered as a child.
As a young Illinoisan transplanted to Colorado, Paul Sacco tried to make it as a musician, and in his basement studio he produced "Finding Aubrey," a CD of his compositions and songs his daughter had recorded. It's available on iTunes, including free samples via aubreysacco.com.
His daughter loved symbols and transcendent things, so he finds it completely reasonable to believe she's being held safe and admired by a religious sect or lost in some deep meditative state.
"We knew from day one she was special," he said.
For their search, the family chose another of Aubrey's favorite symbols: the dragonfly.
Four years ago, one flew into Aubrey's car when she was riding around with friends in Boulder. The insect's body is a work of art, long and slender, with arching, translucent wings.
Aubrey had never before noticed how plentiful they are. Even in Colorado's dry climate, the waterbugs are everywhere, if people just looked for them, she said.
She had been missing a couple of months when her mother went to move Aubrey's car. When the air vents blew, a plastic dragonfly attached by a suction cup fluttered its wings, startling Connie. She began to discover signs of her daughter everywhere — in bright colors, graceful insects, the warmness of Sundays like the ones they almost always spent together.
"I see a piece of glitter over there on the floor," she said, pointing to a tiny speck on a foyer tile.
To the Japanese, the dragonfly is a symbol of courage and strength, and it helps observers appreciate illusions.
"To me," Connie said, "it just says don't give up hope."