Remains of Vanessa Guillén identified, suspect charged.

Remains of Vanessa Guillén identified, suspect charged.

The family of Vanessa Guillén had their worst fears confirmed last week when the Army officially identified human remains as belonging to the missing Fort Hood soldier. Vanessa Guillén disappeared in late April 2020 from her regiment headquarters located near Killeen, Texas. Her remains were found last Tuesday in what has been described as a “shallow grave” by a river in Texas. Authorities have stated they believe Guillén was killed by a fellow soldier, prompting outcry from the community and legislators who have demanded an investigation into the oversights that contributed to this crime.  

Remains of Vanessa Guillén identified, suspect charged.

Vanessa Guillén’s missing person case has been turbulent over the last ten days, beginning with the discovery of her remains by contractors who were working on a fence near the burial site. In a ghastly discovery, investigators found human remains in multiple locations throughout the area. According to ABC13, “When authorities searched the area, they found scattered human remains that appeared to be placed into a concrete-like substance and buried.”

Following the identification of the remains of Vanessa Guillén, investigators were able to identify a person of interest in the case—Aaron David Robinson, 20, an Army Specialist serving with Vanessa Guillén at Fort Hood. Robinson died by suicide on the day authorities contacted him after  Guillén’s remains were identified. While it’s clear we’ll never get to hear an explanation from Robinson himself on his alleged role in the murder of Vanessa Guillén, police have received a gruesome alleged account from his estranged girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar.

Aguilar, 22, has officially been charged with a single count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence with regards to her role in concealing Vanessa Guillén’s murder. She gave a second-hand account of Guillén’s murder based on what Robinson allegedly confessed to her when he solicited her help in burying the remains. Aguilar told investigators that Robinson had confessed he had killed Vanessa Guillén in his arms room while on post the day she went missing. He did so by striking her in the head with a hammer. According to Aguilar, he then placed her body in an box and moved the box off-base near Leon River.

Aguilar then told investigators that Robinson picked her up from a gas station and took her to the box. According to what Aguilar told investigators, she then assisted Robinson in dismembering Vanessa Guillén and placing her remains in holes in three different locations near the bridge where they were discovered by contractors last week. Aguilar’s first court hearing is Monday, July 13.

The attorney representing Vanessa Guillén’s family has stated that Guillén may have been sexually harassed before her disappearance, but Army investigators have yet to establish a connection between the alleged harassment and the murder. The family has also criticized the Army for failing to act in the weeks following Guillén’s disappearance, stating that it wasn’t until national spotlight was on the case that the investigation was able to move forward. Major General Scott Efflandt defended against these claims by saying during a press conference, “What I was able to share [with the family] was tempered by my responsibility to protect the investigation so that we could a) find Vanessa; b) prosecute those responsible for this travesty, and in the end be in a position to punish them.”

Vanessa Guillén’s death prompted many in communities surrounding Fort Hood spent their Fourth of July a little differently this year. Thousands took to the streets of Houston last Saturday, demanding justice and accountability for a fallen member of the armed forces in the days following the identification of her remains. The case has sparked outrage from citizens in different walks of life including mothers and veterans who were sickened to hear the story of the Fort Hood Soldier, and how the Army appeared to have dragged its feet when it came to investigating her disappearance and getting answers for her family.

Indianapolis mother, Chenell Gilbert, still missing

Indianapolis mother, Chenell Gilbert, still missing

Amid civil unrest and a global pandemic, a community is crying out for help in finding their missing loved one. The people in Chenell Gilbert’s life are coming together on the west side of Indianapolis in search of the beloved substitute teacher who went missing on June 9.

The search party was organized by Danyette Smith, who told RTV6, “We need answers. We want to know where she is and we’re out here to today to look for her and hopefully find something that can give us answers to where she is.”

Volunteers are out pounding the pavement, handing out flyers bearing a picture of Chenell and the circumstances surrounding her disappearance to business owners and even leaving them under the mats outside Indianapolis homes, and sharing her story feverishly on social media—anything to keep Chenell’s face in the media amid a global pandemic and global unrest.

Chenell, a loving mother and grandmother, was last seen in the Sungate subdivision near Rockville and Girl School Roads in the first few hours of June 9. “For her children, her friends, her family—this is so unlike her,” Smith told RTV6. “This is just not her. They are extremely weary. We just need answers…On behalf of her daughters, her daughters truly miss her. They cannot wait until she returns home and each hour, each moment is agonizing and definitely scary for them.”

Chenell Gilbert was last seen wearing a black sweatsuit, with a black tote purse and braided hair. The group is asking anyone with information to contact police immediately so Chenelle can be reunited with her children and grandchildren.

All open missing person cases right now are facing a difficult challenge of maintaining media attention. Coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic has been taking media attention away from vulnerable missing persons. However, “There is a full community, a full force. There’s power behind this and we’re here to use that power to look for her,” said Danyette Smith. Anyone with information on Gilbert’s whereabouts is asked to contact the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department at 317-327-3811 or Crime Stoppers at 317-262-TIPS.

Postal carrier, Kierra Coles, still missing after 2 years

Postal carrier, Kierra Coles, still missing after 2 years

Right after his daughter, Kierra Coles, Joseph Coles began living out of his car, keeping vigil in front of the building where she leaved, waiting for her to come home. But in the two years since her disappearance, Coles says that investigators have recently hit a brick wall in the search for Kierra, a then-26 year-old postal worker who was pregnant.

Kierra Coles was last seen leaving her apartment on the morning of October 2, 2018. She lived alone in the apartment on 81st street, and had just moved to the area less than four months ago, according to her mother, Karen Phillips. Kierra was in regular contact with her family, especially her mother. When she didn’t hear from Kierra all day on October 3rd, her mother felt something was wrong, but did not react immediately. After two days of radio silence, Karen Phillips called the Chicago police to conduct a welfare check on her daughter. “I went over to her house to call the police for them to do a well-being check because I had seen her car. So I said, okay she’s probably just in there, maybe she’s asleep or – I don’t know, I just didn’t feel right,” Phillips told the Pittsburg Courier.

The key piece of evidence so far in the case is surveillance footage recovered from a neighbor’s camera, which captured a person believed to be Kierra leaving the building, dressed for work in her postal carrier’s uniform. This has puzzled investigators a great deal, as Kierra called in sick to her job that morning, but still left the apartment dressed for work. The CCTV footage captured Kierra walking up and down the street in front of her building, past her car, before walking out of frame for the last time. Law enforcement and family members have been hoping to find similar CCTV footage that would illuminate more of Kierra’s movements, but no such leads have emerged. When the car was found, her cell phone and purse were inside, along with her lunch bag.

Although they now suspect foul play in the young woman’s disappearance, in the first few weeks of the search, police were not ready to deem Kierra’s disappearance suspicious. Because of Kierra’s age, there are not as many resources in place to locate her—not to mention that adults in the United States, for all intents and purposes, do have the right to go missing if they wish. However, Kierra’s family does not think that she vanished over her own accord, especially given that she was pregnant with her first child.

According to the National Institutes of Health, intimate partner violence affects roughly 300,000 pregnant women every year in the United States. Even more staggering, it knows no sociological boundaries. It affects pregnant women of all ages, colors, education, and religions. Heightened emotions and changes in body chemistry can already be triggers for depression, anxiety, and maladaptive behaviors such as smoking, drugs, and alcohol during pregnancy. It can also trigger intimate partner violence, or what’s more commonly known as domestic violence. The National Institutes of Health also report that homicide is the second-leading cause of injury-related death for pregnant women, superseded only by car accidents. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reported that between 1990 and 2004, more than 1300 pregnant women were murdered in the United States, most commonly by gunshot, stabbing, or strangling. More than two-thirds of these women were killed in their first trimester.

Kierra’s family has noted that they have received few updates from police since she was reported missing, but that USPS had been regularly in touch. Karen told 107.5 WGCI, “The postal inspector, he has been calling and checking in saying, ‘We are doing all we can. There’s things that we can’t tell you right now, but we’re doing all we can.’ I’m just guessing they just want to have facts together, they don’t want to give me bits and pieces.” The USPS has offered a $25,000 reward for anyone providing information that leads to Kierra’s safe return, and has been assisting in the investigation since it opened. As Kierra’s case continues to garner national attention, non-profits such as Black and Missing have placed Kierra’s name, picture, and case information on their website in hopes of spreading her story throughout the country.

Anyone with information on Coles’ whereabouts should call Area South detectives at (312) 747-8274.

LaShaya Stine, Still Missing After 4 Years

LaShaya Stine, Still Missing After 4 Years

The family of LaShaya Stine is still waiting anxiously for answers in her mysterious disappearance. LaShaya was 16 years old and living in Aurora, Colorado with her family when she disappeared in 2016. For almost four years, investigators have been trying to answer the curious questions about that night, including why would a young teen girl suddenly leave her house in the middle of the night?

LaShaya Stine was a bright and diligent student who was on the honor roll at George Washington High School in Aurora. She was on the professional track to become a nurse and devote her life to caring for others. Great things were on the horizon for her, including an internship with the University of Chicago hospital and a potential new job opportunity.

The night of July 15, LaShaya Stine was mentally preparing for that job interview the next day. When her mother, Sabrina Jones, went to bed that evening, LaShaya was still in the house. The next morning, when Sabrina went to wake her daughter for her job interview, she realized Sabrina was gone. Sabrina grabbed the phone and called her daughter’s cell number, but the line went straight to voicemail. The family combed the neighborhood looking for her, but turned up nothing. That’s when the family contacted the authorities and filed a missing person report.

Unfortunately, the investigators at the time treated LaShaya’s case as that of a runaway. It’s not uncommon, when a missing person case gets labeled as a “runaway” case, that investigators will be slow to act or less than thorough when it comes to following up with leads. Another case might be prioritized over a “runaway” case because it deals with a subject who doesn’t want to be found. It wasn’t until a week after her disappearance was reported that the police chief put a new set of eyes on the case.

CCTV footage near LaShaya’s home revealed that she was out walking along East Montview Boulevard around 2:30 am. When investigators showed the footage to her mother, Sabrina Jones said that it was likely her daughter had gone to meet someone, and had every intention to return to the house—seeing as how all of her personal effects, including her wallet and cell phone, had been left behind. The next logical step was to interview the people in LaShaya’s life, primarily her friends. HOweve,r after multiple interviews with LaShaya’s ex-boyfriend and close friends, police still had not generated any promising leads. Seeing as how the investigators had no proof of foul play, it was extremely difficult for them to move forward.

In the years since LaShaya Stine was reported missing, there have been multiple alleged sightings of LaShaya that corroborate theories that she might have become a victim of sex trafficking, such as her coming and going from motels that were known for facilitating sexwork. The witnesses claimed she was in the custody of a man who might have been transporting her across state lines. One girl who was successfully recovered from sex trafficking claimed to have been trafficked with LaShaya, and described a scar on her chest. Despite police follow up, LaShaya was never found at any of the alleged sightings.

The FBI has joined the search for LaShaya, and the case is still being investigated.  If you have any sort of information regarding this case, please contact the Aurora Police Department at 303-739-6164 and Metro Denver Crime Stoppers at 720-913-7867.

The Aurora Police Department, Metro Denver Crime Stoppers and FBI are offering rewards totaling $15,000 for information that helps them find LaShaya.

When Fitness Becomes Dangerous: Three Women Who Went Missing While Exercising

When Fitness Becomes Dangerous: Three Women Who Went Missing While Exercising

It’s not uncommon for women to jog alone. Unfortunately, it’s also not uncommon for women to go missing while jogging or exercising.

Millions of women exercise daily while alone, and most come home safe. However, imagine your friend goes out for a jog or bicycle ride and is never seen again. Women who go missing while jogging are not an isolated event. It may be hard to comprehend, but sadly, stories like this are becoming more common in today’s society.  

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC), there are approximately 100,000 people missing in the United States right now. As of May 31, 2018, there were 19,183 women over the age of eighteen listed as missing in NCIC. Many of them go missing while jogging or exercising.

Stories like Molly Tibbets, who was abducted and murdered, make national news headlines, creating fear throughout the country. Women being attacked or kidnapped, or going missing while jogging is a nightmare we cannot run away from and one that continues to haunt families of the missing.

The Disappearance of Rachel Cooke

Our first woman who went missing while jogging is Rachel Cooke. Rachel Cooke, 19, was visiting her parents in Georgetown, Texas, during her winter break from college. No one knew that would be her last trip home. On January 10, 2002, at approximately 9:30 a.m., Rachel went out for her four-mile daily run and was last seen 200 yards from her family home. Somewhere in that short distance, the beautiful young college student with a smile that could light up the Texas plains—vanished.(Northlake subdivision in Georgetown, Texas, where Rachel Cooke vanished while taking a morning run.)

Northlake subdivision is a quiet place, about 45 minutes from Austin, where streets are named after Native American tribes and the only people there are residents and their visitors. The houses are set back on several acres of property with expansive drives. The serenity is rarely disturbed by strangers, making it a perfect storm of cirumcstances to go missing while jogging.

224 Navajo Trail was the Cooke family’s dream home, and they loved its spaciousness and tranquility. Robert and Janet Cooke raised Rachel and her little sister Joann there while Janet taught English at a nearby high school. Robert was a long-time software engineer for IBM and commuted daily to Austin. It was a place where people felt safe going outside alone and kidnapping did not happen—until Rachel.

The Cooke family’s idyllic life came to an end that fateful Thursday, but the day started like any other. Robert and Janet left early to work, and Joann went to her classes at the local high school. Rachel was enjoying her winter break as a freshman at Mesa Junior College San Diego, and her family let her sleep in.

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(Rachel Cooke was last seen at her parent’s home in Georgetown, Texas on January 10, 2002.)

When the family left that morning, Rachel was asleep on the living room sofa. Her mother kissed her goodbye.

Authorities believe Rachel got up and left the home at approximately 9:30 a.m. for her morning run. She went missing while jogging that morning.

When Robert got home at 5:00 p.m., Rachel was still not there and had no contact with anyone in the family the entire day. At first, Robert was not that concerned thinking Rachel was out with her friend Shannon, who she had plans with that evening. But, as time went by, Robert began to worry. He called Wildfire, a local restaurant, Rachel sometimes worked at while visiting. To the worried father’s relief, they told him Rachel had worked a shift that evening. However, morning came and there was still no sign of Rachel, so Robert called the restaurant again. To his horror, they told him, in fact, it was another Rachel that had worked the previous night shift.

Rachel was missing—and a sinking feeling overcame her father.

In the days following Rachel’s disappearance, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office conducted a search with help from hundreds of volunteers. After the initial search efforts concluded, Robert and Janet continued to organize searches on weekends.

“We carried on for nine months, but at some point, we thought we’ve done our best,” Robert told the Guardian. “If they took her 12 miles, there is no reason why they wouldn’t take her 15 miles. We could search the entire state of Texas and still not find her.”

Robert Cooke passed away in November 2014, never knowing what happened to his daughter.

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(The FBI erected billboards of Rachel Cooke in the state of Texas offering a $100,000 reward for information.) 

In May 2019, the FBI erected billboards throughout Texas offering a $100,000 reward for any information about the whereabouts of Rachel.

As drivers passed Rachel’s smiling face along I-35, it read “Missing but not forgotten,” and placed there on Rachel’s 37th birthday. Janet Cook saw it as a Mother’s Day gift as well. Time has not lessened the mother’s hope of finding her daughter—and at least knowing what happened.

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(In 2020, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office released two suspect composites in the disappearance of Rachel Cooke.)

In 2020, for Rachel’s 38th birthday, deputies met with Rachel’s mother Janet and released two new composite sketches of potential suspects in the case. 

Her mother had a remembrance ceremony at the campus of Georgetown High School where they planted a tree in memory of Rachel. Sheriff Robert Chody spoke at the ceremony to remind the public his investigators are still working the case.

Janet Cooke, who also spoke, said she is just “seeking closure” on the case. “At this point I just want Rachel and to be able to tell her sister it’s over,” she told the Statesman.  

If you have any information about the disappearance of Rachel Cooke, please call the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office at 512-943-5204 or email coldcasetips@wilco.com.

The Disappearance of Suzanne Morphew

Suzanne Morphew was another woman who very recently went missing while jogging or exercising, except she was on a bicycle. Suzanne Morphew, 49, went out biking alone on Mother’s Day and never returned to her central Colorado home. Just after 6 p.m. on May 10, 2020, a neighbor alerted the Chaffee County Communications Center that Suzanne had not returned from her bike ride.

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(Suzanne Morphew is missing from the small community in Maysville, Colorado, approximately 120 miles from Colorado Springs.)

An avid cyclist, Suzanne was biking near her home in Maysville, a small community in Chaffee County, approximately 120 miles southwest of Colorado Springs. Her disappearance has spurred nationwide press coverage and a Facebook page with over 16,315 followers.

There have been reports that Suzanne’s bicycle was found just west of County Road 225 and West U.S. Highway 50. However, the Sheriff’s Office has only publicly confirmed a “personal item” was found that they believe belonged to the missing biker.

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(Barry Morphew, Suzanne’s husband, made an emotional plea to the public offering a $200,000 reward for his wife’s safe return. Photo courtesy of Inside Edition)

Suzanne’s husband, Barry Morphew made a dramatic plea offering a $200,000 reward for the safe return of his wife. “No questions asked,” said Barry. “However much they want. I will do whatever it takes to get you back. I love you and I want you back so bad.” Barry, a volunteer firefighter is said to have been 150 miles away in Denver when Suzanne vanished. 

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(Suzanne Morphew has been missing from Maysville, Colorado, since May 10, 2020.)

Suzanne is a mother of two daughters and a cancer survivor. A former English teacher, Suzanne is described as “happy and active” who was always at the gym, hiking, or biking. She is loved in her community, and fliers dot the windows in the local businesses. Hundreds of volunteers have helped with the search efforts, organized by her nephew Trevor Noel, who has also become the family spokesperson.

“As time goes by, it gives us concern, but we are searching as if she is still alive and we think she could still be alive,” Sheriff John Spezze of the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office told Inside Edition. In an earlier interview, the sheriff also said they are not ruling out foul play.

Initially, authorities had seized the Morphew home but confirmed on May 26, 2020, that the house has been released back to the family. Investigators have also searched a local home construction site in Salida, approximately 11 miles east of Maysville, spurring rumors that Suzanne Morphew had been located and the husband arrested. The sheriff’s office issued a press release in response to the speculation.

“In response to the widespread rumors, the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office relays that Ms. Morphew has not been located and there have been no arrests in the investigation,” the release said.

Authorities say they have received over 400 tips and continue to encourage the public to call in with leads.

If you have any information about the disappearance of Suzanne Morphew, please contact the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office at 719-312-7530.

The Disappearance of Amy Bechtel

Amy Wroe Bechtel, 24, vanished on July 24, 1997, while jogging in the Wind River Mountains approximately 15 miles south of Lander, Wyoming. 

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(Amy Wroe Bechtel vanished on July 24, 1997, while jogging in the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming.)

Amy Bechtel went missing while jogging in a little hamlet of middle America. Lander, Wyoming is located in Fremont County with a population of under 8,000 people. A popular tourist destination with guest ranches, it is located just below the Wind River Mountains where people go hiking, rock climbing, and backpacking. 

That Thursday morning of July 24, Amy told her husband, Steve Bechtel, that she was planning on running several errands in town after teaching a children’s weightlifting class at the Wind River Fitness Center. Steve planned to drive with his yellow lab, Jonz, to Dubois, 75 miles north, to meet his friend Sam Lightner, and scout some possible new climbing areas at Cartridge Creek. 

After teaching class, Amy stopped at the Camera Connection, a photo store near her home in Lander, and then stopped by Gallery 331, where she spoke to the business owner about submitting her photographs into a competition. Amy was an amateur photographer, an avid runner, and a marathon hopeful who loved the outdoors and pristine beauty of Wyoming. 

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(A quaint mountain town, Lander is located in Central Wyoming just south of the Wind River Indian Reservation.)

Steve and Amy lived on Lucky Lane, a hipster community where many rock climbers live, drawn by some of the most difficult mountain walls in the United States. Lander is a quirky town with funky shops and art galleries, old school watering holes, and small home-town restaurants. Steve and Amy both worked part-time at Wild Iris Mountain Sports, a local outdoor equipment store.

The couple had just closed on a new house and were busy planning a move. Amy was also organizing a 10k hill climb scheduled for September 7. She planned that the runners would climb a series of mountain switchbacks not far from town, then jump into the Frye Lake and finish with a picnic. On the day she vanished, Amy’s “to do” list included a run and lifting, recycling, get photo mounted, get more boxes, mow the lawn, and get flyers.

John Strom, the owner of Camera Connection remembers Amy wearing a yellow shirt, black shorts, and running shoes that day. He said she seemed busy and cheerful when she left at about 2:30 p.m.

After completing several of her afternoon chores and leaving the camera shop—Amy’s life becomes that of speculation.

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(Steve and Amy Bechtel with their dog Jonz.)

Steve returned from his day out with his friend at about 4:30 p.m. and found the house empty. He had returned earlier than planned and was not concerned but at about 10 p.m. he called her parents to see if Amy had driven to their house on the spur of the moment. She had not.

By 11 p.m. Steve had called the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office who sent two deputies to the house. They alerted the following shift who began to organize a search and rescue team to head out at daybreak. Steve and his neighbor Todd Skinner went to look for Amy’s car on Loop Road, a 30-mile road through the Shoshone National Forest. 

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(Amy Bechtel’s car was found alongside the road in Burnt Gulch, about 45 minutes from town.)

At approximately 1:00 a.m., Steve received a call that Amy’s white Toyota Tercel station wagon was found alongside the road at Burnt Gulch, about 45 minutes from town in the mountains, so he headed there immediately. Her car unlocked, the keys under her “to do” list on the front passenger seat, along with her sunglasses.

Steve and a small group began searching the woods with flashlights, calling Amy’s name. By the time the official search party arrived, a dozen people were searching for Amy and the site had not been preserved for evidence. Thinking Amy was just lost, no one could have imagined the site might be a crime scene,

For years, evidence remained elusive, and over the last two decades, law enforcement has only developed theories about what happened to her. They believe Amy left the camera shop and then went to scout the location for the 10k.

In recent years, national television and media interest in the case has waned and generated little leads that have been useful to authorities. A $25,000 reward went untouched and was eventually converted into two college scholarship funds in Amy’s name.

Fremont County Sheriff Sgt. Roger Rizor has been the lead investigator and told the Billings Gazette in 2007, that Amy’s case was cold, but it is still an open case. “I believe it was a homicide, and I believe that’s what happened on the day she disappeared.”

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(Jo Anne Wroe wanders in the meadows of her log home above Red Lodge to feel close to her missing daughter Amy Wroe Bechtel. Photo courtesy of the Billings Gazette.)

As years passed, Jo Anne stopped marking the anniversaries of Amy’s disappearance with yellow ribbons. She does not have a grave to visit so she loves to meander near the mountain creek among the aspen trees and wildflowers to feel close to her missing daughter. 

Amy’s disappearance has deeply affected every facet of Jo Anne’s life and that of her three other children. 

“A part of me is realistic, and I’m aware that she is probably not alive,” she said. “I have learned to live with the fact that Amy is gone. But I have not accepted it, and I will not until I know what happened.”

If you have any information about the disappearance of Amy Wroe Bechtel, please call the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office at 307-332-5611.

Kym served as CEO of the National Center for Missing Adults from 1994 to 2010 and advocating for missing persons and their families for over 25 years.

Kym has worked with national media to raise awareness and featured on Anderson Cooper Live, Greta Van Susteren, Montel Williams, the John Walsh Show, CNN, BBC, FOX, L. A. Times, People Magazine, Ladies Home Journal.