Note: This story was not posted online. Thanks to DeDe Keene for getting it to us. www.beaumontenterprise.com
By Julia GarciaStill missing
When loved ones disappear, family, friends create their own channels to continue search for answers
It's been more than 11 years since his sister disappeared from a Beaumont parking lot, and each year brings more questions for Norman Langwell.
"It's been a long time, and we don't have a body," said the Beaumont native who now lives in California . "We don't know what happened, and there's no closure until you know."
In the years immediately following Kimberly Langwell's disappearance July 9, 1999, her brother became obsessed with finding answers.
"I set up my own database, collected my own evidence and I looked for any patterns to see if something was missing," recalled the 57-year-old. "I searched and researched anything I could think of."
And while a decade of official investigations has turned up no answers about how or why his sister disappeared, Langwell remains convinced that foul play was involved. The proof, he said, is her daughter.
She raised that little girl on her own from the time she was born," he said of Tiffani Langwell, who was 15 years old when her mother seemingly vanished. "Kim loved her and sacrificed for her, and she wouldn't have left her." The case file
Kimberly Ann Langwell was 34 when she disappeared from a parking lot on the corner of Dowlen Road and Phelan Boulevard.
The only trace of her found on the property -- that part of which served an Eckerd's Pharmacy there at the time -- was her silver 1994 Nissan Altima. Inside of it, according to reports from the incident, was a cell phone and some other personal items, but no purse, no keys and no substantial clues.
Tiffani was the last to hear from her mother, who had called earlier that evening and confirmed 6:30 p.m. dinner plans, reports also claim. But she never showed and all searches and investigations since have provided no answers.
"Susan was putting stuff out everywhere," Langwell said of his sister, Susan Butts, who also was heavily involved in the search for Kimberly.
Calls made to Butts from The Enterprise were not returned by press time.
"She contacted every missing persons organization. We talked to everybody, we looked everywhere. "It's just hard." A life of uncertainty
As in the case of the Langwell family, mysterious disappearances often leave a trail of unanswered questions.
For some, like Jim and Kelly Jolkowski of Omaha , Neb. , the inability to provide their own answers turned into a way to provide answers for others.
After the 2001 disappearance of their 19-year-old son Jason, the Jolkowskis founded Project Jason to provide nationwide assistance to families of missing persons.
"Time is really of the essence when someone first goes missing, and we're here to guide the family through the process," Kelly Jolkowski said in a phone interview.
"The police have their duties, which are the investigation, not to comfort families or guide them how to deal with it. Awareness, publicity, posters -- that's where we step in to help with those aspects of the process."
At any given time, Project Jason is working with the families of about 300 missing persons.
But that's only the cases with which Project Jason is directly involved.
According to data released by the FBI's National Crime Information Center , there were 719,558 missing persons reported throughout the United States in 2009. By the last day of the year, 96,192 of those cases still were active.
Of all reports made in 2009, 558,493 involved children.
Ten years prior -- the year Kimberly Langwell disappeared -- there were 867,129 missing persons reported nationally. "Someone goes missing roughly every 30 seconds," Jolkowski said.
When her teenage son disappeared from their Nebraska home in 2001, it was "almost like he vanished," she said. Officials uncovered no leads in the case.
"In his case, there's no evidence that someone took him or harmed him, but there's definitely no evidence that he ran away," Jolkowski said, adding that he had $650 in his savings account that remained untouched.
Jason's cell phone was never used again, and his car was in the shop for repairs.
"All those things don't add up to him running away," she said. "But there's no evidence that something happened to him either. It's a very mysterious case, unfortunately." Files still open
No matter how long a person has been missing, their case remains open, said Maj. Raymond Clark of the Port Arthur Police Department.
While the numbers fluctuate, he said, two or three missing persons reports generally are filed each week. Most involve children.
"It is very common that a juvenile missing person ends up being a runaway," Clark said.
Often when senior citizens are involved, the person simply gets lost because of age-related illnesses like Alzheimer's or dementia, he said. He remembers a case in particular involving a Port Arthur man who somehow ended up traveling all the way to Corpus Christi alone. He was reunited with his family, Clark said, but that's not always the case.
There are some people on the missing persons lists who want to remain that way, said Sgt. Garrold Keaton, an Orange detective. Some people, he said, set out to disappear.
"Once we find those people, we can't make them go home," Keaton said, citing the more common example of marital disputes where one spouse leaves without any forwarding contact information.
"Technology has made it more difficult to intentionally disappear," Clark said. "In some way or another, you'll show up."
Like homicide, there is no statute of limitations on a missing persons case.
Both Clark and Keaton said that cases are revisited from time to time and the databases are frequently checked by dispatchers for new information.
But as a father and a grandfather, Clark said that he can't imagine what families experience when a loved one disappears.
"If you have a loved one killed, you have some closure. But there's nothing worse than not knowing," Clark said. "You probably wake up every day with a weight on your head and knowing it's not right. "I can't imagine what a parent would feel." The poster child
Kimberly Langwell literally has become the "poster child" for DeDe Keene.
Just months before Langwell was reported missing, Keene moved to from Central Texas to Vidor to care for sick relatives.
The 62-year-old woman, however, had been working with international missing persons reports since 1999. At the age of 7, she said, she survived a 1955 abduction from an Illinois grocery store.
When she heard about Langwell's disappearance, Keene immediately became involved. To this day, she distributes " Have You Seen Me" type fliers with Langwell's photo and information.
"Praise God for people who look at posters," Keene said while sitting in her Vidor home.
While Langwell's case is a focus for Keene , she works with several missing persons organizations nationwide through the website she founded in 2001 -- America 's Missing Abducted and Lost Persons Ministry.
"This is seven-days-a week for me," Keene said. "Before and after church, I'm looking at the databases and posters and making sure I know as much as I can."
Every July, on the anniversary of Langwell's disappearance, Keene and her husband, Dale, can be seen at the corner of the parking lot where Kimberly was last seen passing out fliers and holding a sign that says "Gone, but Not Forgotten." Waiting is only answer
After providing all the descriptions and related information, the families of missing people are left to wait.
"We had very little support and help," Jolkowski said about the days and months following the disappearance of her son, Jason.
"After I got over the initial shock, I researched on the Internet and found out how many missing people there were," she said. "People get the idea that there's only a few here and there.
"Nobody came along and held our hands or told us what the next steps were or how we should feel," she said. "Things fell between the cracks.
"Nobody told me not throw his toothbrush away or try to get fingerprints. Nobody hands you a manual. That's where we step in."
Project Jason offers services for families dealing with the emotional aspect of the situation. They have a counselor available for emotional support and questions on an online forum. They also sponsor annual retreats for families of the missing.
"For three days, they're enveloped in love and support and in a safe environment," she said. "They learn coping skills and how to go on no matter how long the situation lasts."
One important aspect of the process that is often neglected, Jolkowski said, is "identifiers."
"We teach them about how to get DNA done, about fingerprints and dental records," she said. "We coach them in that respect too, because it's tough. No one wants to think that their loved one is deceased."
As another Christmas rolled past last week, Norman Langwell was reminded of the absence of his sister, Kimberly. The depression is at its worst during the holidays and on the anniversary of her disappearance, he said.
"When you think about it, this is somebody you love, part of your bloodstream," he said. "After this long, it almost feels hopeless."