By LACEE SHEPARD
Capital News Service
LANSING – It was 1990 when Kellie Greene of Kalamazoo received the call that her then 20-year-old cousin, Richard Hitchcock, had gone missing. Hitchcock was last seen at the Riverfront Lounge in Allegan the night he disappeared.
“I remember the day I found out. My mother called me and said, ‘Rich is missing, you need to come down to the Riverfront, we’re going to be doing searches,’” Greene said. “We were looking for him as if we thought he was deceased already, and it was horrifying to think we might find him – but at the same time that is what we wanted.”
Hitchcock was one of countless of Michigan residents who are reported missing every year. According to State Police statistics, in 2012 alone there were more than 8,000 criminal missing persons cases, including abductions and runaways.
Like Hitchcock’s, most disappearances remain unsolved.
Cases like Hitchcock’s are what inspired Detroit based Detective Trooper Sarah Krebs to create a Missing in Michigan event three years ago.
“We found there was a need, not only to get DNA samples on file from missing persons to identify them to our unidentified remains,” Krebs said, “but also because families needed more support and recognition of loved ones going missing from their lives.”
DNA samples collected at events like the most recent Missing in Michigan gathering in Bath, help investigators like Krebs to identify previously unknown victims.
In multiple cases, the missing person was located but unidentifiable. This also led to the inspiration for Missing in Michigan.
“I got an understanding of how hard it was for families to identify their loved ones, and in some cases we had them the whole time,” Krebs said. “They were in our local morgues or our local property rooms and we could just never identify them.
“I could see this caused that family and so many other families stress and years of missing their person when here we had them 15 miles down the road.”
“It made me realize there was more we could do for them,” she said.
When someone’s reported missing, police seek clues. They may conduct K-9 searches, aerial searches using helicopters, or, as in the Hitchcock case, grid searches, said Detective Craig Gardiner of the Allegan County Sheriff’s Department.
“Divide up the area into sections so you know it’s covered thoroughly,” Gardiner said. “People lining and walking a certain area so you know you’re not missing anything. That way you check off areas if you’re looking for a body or an article of clothing or a weapon or whatever you’re looking for.”
Green said cases like her cousin’s that never come to a clear conclusion are the hardest on families. They don’t have concrete answers and can rely only on what police speculate.
The most difficult part is knowing what Hitchcock is missing out on in life, and that someone knows what happened to him but won’t give the family closure, Greene said.
For families who have lost someone, Greene’s advice is:
“Never give up hope. I know that we are looking at 23 years come December but we never gave up hope – not necessarily the hope that Rich is still alive, but the hope that we will get closure and find his remains and possible justice.”
By LACEE SHEPARD