Original Post: 09/26/04
Buttons put faces on missing adults
By Crystal Bonvillian
Eleven-year-old Timothy Davis of Bristol, N.H., has never met LaQuanta Riley, but he carries a button emblazoned with her picture on his backpack every day in the hopes of someday easing her family's suffering.
Riley, now 20, got into a car outside her Montgomery home the night of Dec. 7 and has not been seen since. There have been few leads on her whereabouts. Her disappearance nearly 10 months ago has left many, including her family and the police, baffled.
"We've come to the point now where we've talked to everyone," said Montgomery police Sgt. Scott Martino, a detective working the case. "Right now, she's still considered missing, and we hope for the best. We hope that we'll find her alive and well."
Riley's case has gained new interest, however, in the form of Project Jason, a Nebraska-based organization that helps families of the missing. Kelly Jolkowski, the organization's president, founded the group after her 19-year-old son, Jason Jolkowski, disappeared from outside their Omaha home one June afternoon in 2001.
"There are no indications that he's a runaway to me," Jolkowski said. "But there's no proof of anything happening to him. That's what these families are going through -- the limbo. These families deserve some peace of mind."
Project Jason, which celebrates its first anniversary Oct. 6, began the "Adopt a Missing Person" program June 13, the third anniversary of Jason's disappearance. Riley is one of the adopted.
"These folks have been a blessing," said Pam Riley, LaQuanta's mother. Pam Riley and her aunt, Katie Smith, sat in Riley's living room Friday and talked about the struggle of living without LaQuanta.
A close-up look at the button of the missing woman, LaQuanta Riley.
"The rumors are horrible," said Smith, who raised LaQuanta when a then-16-year-old Pam Riley realized she could not handle a newborn baby. "If you listen to them all, they'll drive you crazy."
The worst rumor dealt with the false discovery of LaQuanta Riley's remains, Smith said. There have also been rumors about the bubbly young woman, who was preparing to go to college, being held captive by abductors.
"I don't take calls from anyone anymore," Pam Riley said. "If they can't call me and tell me they're looking at her face or if they can't tell me they're holding her hand, I don't want to hear from them."
LaQuanta Riley's disappearance is the latest in a string of tragedies the family has faced. Her grandmother -- Pam Riley's mother and Smith's sister -- was murdered in August 1972, when Pam Riley was 4. Her killer has never been caught.
The family was dealt another blow in 1996, when Pam Riley's younger daughter, Kamesha, died of AIDS. She was just 9.
"She was molested when she was about 4," Pam Riley said. "He was HIV-positive and he passed it on to her. 'Quanta is the only daughter I have left."
ADOPTING A MISSING PERSON
Below are the steps you can take to adopt LaQuanta Riley or any of the more than 200 people profiled on Project Jason's Web site.
Go through the list of missing people and choose as many as you would like to adopt.
A trip to the post office: Send a self-addressed, stamped bubble mailer to Project Jason, Adopt a Missing Person Program, P.O. Box 3035, Omaha, Neb., 68103.
Is your postage correct? Be sure to check that the proper amount of postage is affixed, depending on the size of your mailer and how many buttons you are requesting. A 4x7 mailer requires two 37-cent stamps, and a 6x9 mailer requires three.
Source: Project Jason
Kamesha's death has made LaQuanta Riley's disappearance that much harder for her four brothers to deal with, her mother said. They declined to be interviewed for this story.
"They won't talk about it," Pam Riley said. "If someone brings it up, they leave the room."
She said that she got involved with Project Jason through a member of a support group. Through Jolkowski's organization, buttons and flyers have been distributed, and LaQuanta Riley's face and information are on numerous Web sites. Earlier this month, LaQuanta's own Web site, http://www.findlaquanta.com,
"Someone has to know something," Pam Riley said. "Montgomery ain't that big and Alabama ain't that big. Somebody saw something."
The family's one hope now is that someone will see a flyer or button with LaQuanta's face on it and come forward.
Timothy Davis' mother, Louise Holmburg, said her son is proud to wear LaQuanta Riley's picture each day.
"Timothy wears the button and tells people about LaQuanta," Holmburg said. "He carries her information sheet with him. It was so cute, he tried to remember it all by heart, but I told him to bring the sheet with him. I told him he didn't want to give people the wrong information."
Like the Riley family, Holmburg is searching for a loved one. Her nephew, Lorne Boulet Jr., a paranoid schizophrenic, disappeared from Chichester, N.H., in July of 2001.
"Even with the age difference, he and Timothy were best friends," Holmburg said. "Most people were leery because of the schizophrenia, but my kids were so young they didn't look at that. Their love for him was unconditional."
As is the love of LaQuanta Riley's family, her mother and great-aunt said.
"If she did leave because of something she thought we wouldn't be understanding about, we want her to know we love her no matter what," Smith said, wiping tears from her eyes. "Bad or good, I love her."
"I just can't wait for 'Quanta to come home so I can hear the whole story," Pam Riley said. "She needs to come home."
Many thanks to Louise, Missing Lorne Boulet's Aunt, who plays a big part right there in her town to get our missing loved ones adopted.
God bless Louise!