2009 brought us amazingly hopeful and terribly tragic stories about women that have gone missing. In California , Jaycee Dugard gave hope to area families with missing children that an ultimate reunion is still possible. Abducted at the age of 11, she returned home after 18 years. On Cleveland 's Imperial Avenue , other families learned the grim fate of their missing loved ones. ideastream®’s David C. Barnett explores the lives of two local families who never gave up when their daughters vanished.
According to a recent Plain Dealer analysis of Cleveland police records, the majority of missing person reports are easily solved cases of kids sneaking out of the house or teens resisting their curfews. But, ten percent of “the missing” are never found. It’s been over five years since Nancy Ruiz’s daughter Georgina disappeared on her way home from school. But, this mother hasn’t given up hope.
NANCY RUIZ: You know, a lot of people think that because they’re missing, they’re dead. They’re not. I know my daughter’s out there. Somebody knows something.
Nancy Ruiz and her common-law husband Felix DeJesus live in a working class neighborhood on Cleveland ’s Westside. Ruiz scans through a DVD that has the latest telling of Gina’s story.
SOUND FROM DVD: “…one wonders, just how does a human being disappear into thin air, in the middle of the day, amongst a sea of people?” UP & UNDER
This locally produced documentary retraces the day that Gina DeJesus disappeared on a Spring day in 2004 --- how she and her mom were going to have a girls-day-at-the-mall, after school… and how she was going to take the bus home, so they could get an early start. But, she never made it home. When Nancy Ruiz called in the Missing Person report, she got a quick response.
NANCY RUIZ: The police got here within five minutes. They took the report. The only thing is…the comment that he made. And his comment was: “Well, you know, she’s 14-years-old --- she’s at that age.”
The implication that her daughter was a wild teenager, off having fun, upset Nancy Ruiz, but she had to keep her focus on Gina. She had no idea what to do, who else to contact…how to keep her daughter’s name and face out in front of the public. Ruiz and her husband learned all of that the hard way --- especially as the weeks went by, and the reporters moved on to other news stories.
NANCY RUIZ: When the media pulled away, we knew we had to come up with something else to keep this alive and keep Gina’s pictures on the media. And so, from then on, every opportunity, every chance that was given to us, we took.
They’ve tried memorial vigils every year on her birthday in February. They’ve tried candlelight walks observing the day of her disappearance in April. And now, they’re trying this --- at times melodramatic --- video production, trying to overcome the fickleness of the 24-hour news cycle. Her police case remains open.
SOUND: from DVD documentary: “And still, five years later, the question remains: Where is Gina?” DRAMATIC MUSIC UP & OUT
This past November, the TV cameras focused on the discovery of Crystal Dozier and ten other women, whose bodies were found in and around the property of alleged serial killer, Anthony Sowell on Cleveland’s east side.
TV NEWS SOUND: Crystal was found inside Sowell’s Imperial Avenue home on Friday. She is one of 11 victims that Sowell allegedly killed and left dismembered and decomposing.
But, those lurid facts from a 90-second news report don’t begin to tell the story of the 38-year-old victim --- a woman who was a doting mother, and grandmother. A more complete picture begins to emerge as Crystal’s mother, Florence Bray, sorts through some family photos.
FLORENCE BRAY: This is her, this is my mother, her sister, that’s her daughter, that’s her son, and that’s my daughter’s second baby, right there.
Bray pauses before handing me one more picture of her daughter.
FLORENCE BRAY: This is the one that makes me cry.
It’s one of those two-by-three-inch grade school photos, showing a little girl wearing a striped shirt and a blue jacket with big lapels. She’s every mother’s innocent child, smiling sweetly…oblivious to the future.
Each picture sparks a memory for Florence Bray. For instance, how Crystal rode herd over her brother Paul and sisters Annetta and Chara.
FLORENCE BRAY: If I told Crystal to do something and make sure the other kids did it, she made sure they did it. She wasn’t no joke [chuckles], because she didn’t want to get in no trouble with me [chuckles]
When Bray’s husband died due to complications from diabetes, Crystal and her sisters jumped in and helped prepare meals, while their mother went back to work to keep food on the table. The family worked as a team, and made the best of what they had. But then, things started to change.
FLORENCE BRAY: You know, she had some problems during her adult life, because she had an abusive husband.
A teen-aged Crystal had gotten pregnant by a guy 13 years older than her. They got married. The babies kept coming. And then, the violence started. At home on leave from the Marines, Paul Dozier visited Crystal one day and found his sister’s pretty face marred by a black eye. Crystal separated from her husband, who has since served jail time for aggravated burglary, drug abuse and domestic violence. Somewhere during this time, Crystal developed a taste for crack cocaine.
FLORENCE BRAY: My baby was so messed up, she started talking crazy out of her head. It was horrible.
And then, in July of 2007, Crystal went missing. Her son filed a police report and the rest of the family started their own search.
FLORENCE BRAY: We thought she was still alive, because of the fact that we called the morgue, we called the hospital, we called the jail. And she was not in any of them. We did this periodically and she was not there. We never would have thought she was right under our nose, rotting in the ground somewhere.
Last month, Florence Bray got some sense of closure when the coroner positively identified the remains of her daughter buried in a shallow grave behind Anthony Sowell’s house. On the other side of town, Felix DeJesus and Nancy Ruiz are still waiting for word on their daughter, Georgina. Ruiz says the worst part is “the not knowing”.
NANCY RUIZ: The not knowing. Once they find the body, it doesn’t change our feelings. It doesn’t change nothing. It just gives us a way that we can bury her properly and have a place to go to talk to her.
The last time Florence Bray was with her daughter was at the mausoleum in Lake View Cemetery. Crystal’s remains were encased in a gold urn.
FLORENCE BRAY: One more time, I had to hold my baby. And I gave her a big old kiss on top of the urn she was in, like I was kissing her on the forehead.
Florence Bray says she’s ready to move on.
FLORENCE BRAY: Now, it’s time to focus on keeping my family together, try to get over this as much as we can, and try to re-establish a normal life again. It will never be that way, but we’re going to try to get as close as possible as we can get. That’s all I can say.
MUSIC: UP & OUT