Originally posted on 06/15/06
Without a trace
Grandmother leads search effort to find 2 boys
Posted June 15, 2006
Rebecca Mahoney | Sentinel Staff Writer
PORT ORANGE -- On a cool Sunday in January 2005, Alene and Ernie Hayes drove from Port Orange to Jacksonville to spend the day with their 13-year-old grandson, Bryan.
They took him out to dinner, smiling as he chatted happily about his new middle school. They hugged him tightly when they dropped him off, promising another visit soon.
They never saw him again. Less than two weeks later, on Feb. 10, 2005, Bryan ran away from Paxon Middle School with a 12-year-old classmate, Mark Deg- ner.
No one knows what happened to the boys, or even if they are still alive. Police say they have few solid leads.
On Friday, Jacksonville police will join the Community United Effort Center for Missing Persons in making another call for help in finding the boys. They are considered endangered runaways, police said.
For Alene Hayes, solving the mystery of the boys' disappearance has become her life's mission.
Every day, she e-mails missing-children's organizations around the country for help in finding the boys, and she regularly contacts media outlets in hopes of bringing fresh attention to Bryan's case. She said she and her husband adopted Bryan when he was 7 because his mother could not take care of him.
She is also working to start a support group in Volusia County for people with missing loved ones.
"You feel so lost," said Hayes, 74. "You have nowhere to turn. You need someone to talk to."
Unfamiliar with area
Police and school officials say the boys left school about 1 p.m. after Mark had an argument with a teacher. They had no backpacks, cell phones or money, and were both new to the school and unfamiliar with the area.
Both boys are developmentally disabled and take medication for emotional and behavioral problems. Bryan also takes medication for a kidney ailment and high blood pressure, and both boys have an emotional development of children three to five years younger.
Police have never been able to find any trace of the boys. Reported sightings have come from as far away as North Carolina, Maine and Arizona, but have proven false.
In Jacksonville, the case is still active, with two detectives assigned to it.
"We're actually working it day to day," said Detective Cam McKinnon.
So far, however, there has been nothing to indicate the status of the boys.
"Every time I see a boy about Mark's age, I'm slowing down to see if it's him," said Linda Alligood, Mark's mother, who lives in Jacksonville.
Desperate for answers, Hayes recently contacted an Arizona psychic, who told her the boys drowned in a river by the school.
Hayes and Mark's family drove to the site and found it just as she described: a twisty, perilous river, trees with branches that hang over the water and an overgrown cemetery nearby. But they found no evidence that the boys had been there and quickly cast her augury aside.
(Psychics do not solve missing person's cases)
"I'm not ready to believe the boys are dead," Hayes said. "We're not giving up hope until we have to give up hope."
Of the more than 797,000 children younger than 18 reported missing nationally each year, 94 percent are found and returned home, said Bob O'Brien, senior director of the missing children's division at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The agency does not break down whether those children who are returned are boys or girls, children or teens.
Asked what the odds are that the boys will be found, O'Brien said, "If a child has been gone for 15 months and no contact has been made to the parent, there is plenty of reason to believe a child is at very high risk."
Could it be Bryan?
Bryan is never far from Hayes' mind.
Hayes and her husband were enjoying dinner at a Golden Corral near Walt Disney World last month when she looked up and saw Bryan eating with a group of teenagers at a nearby table.
But as she made her way tremulously across the dining room, she realized the teen wasn't Bryan, after all: no freckles, no red hair, no mischievous grin.
This is why Hayes wants to start a support group -- so that she can ask other parents if they, too, find themselves in similar heartbreaking scenarios, and so that she can share her own experiences.
"When you have a loved one who is missing, you can't sleep, can't eat. You're devastated," she said. "You need someone to help you get through the rough spots. You need someone to help you be strong."
At her home in Port Orange, Hayes is working on a scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings about the boys and stories about other missing children.
Someday, she hopes to give Bryan the scrapbook as a way to show him how many people wanted him to come home.
"He needs to know we've been looking for him, that they are missed and loved and we want them to come home," she said. "We're never going to give up on him."http://www.orlandosentinel.com/