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People Top 5
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- February 26, 2007
- Vol. 67
- No. 8
Never Give Up
Family and Friends Won't Let These Missing Persons Disappear Without a Fight
MISSING July 1980
In the 26½ years since her son vanished, Ella Cobos has kept her double front doors bright pink. "Those can't be changed," says Cobos, 71, of Colorado Springs. "If he would ever come home and wasn't sure of where he was at, the pink doors would give him the answer."
Her son Amadeo Vigil, then 24, went missing in July 1980 while hitchhiking to meet a friend in Fort Garland, Colo., 136 miles away. "It's difficult not knowing," Cobos admits. "But when you don't know, you always have that little hope." Cobos and her younger son Vincent, then 22, looked everywhere they could think of for Amadeo, a kindhearted 5'6", 130-lb. Spanish major, and 40 volunteers scoured La Vita Pass. They hired a private aircraft to fly over the area. "We looked under bridges, in open fields," says Cobos. "I went to all the hospitals." When a man said that he'd picked up Amadeo in Colorado Springs and dropped him off at the intersection of I-25 and Highway 50, Cobos sat for days at the interchange, copying the license plates of every car that exited and contacting the drivers to determine if they'd seen her son. They hadn't. Since then Vincent has searched for his brother on the Internet. In 2006 he met with Hugh Velez, a Colorado Springs detective who had handled Amadeo's disappearance, to review his brother's files one more time. His mother is still hunting as well: "Everywhere I go, every hitchhiker I see, I think, 'Could that be him?'"
Danielle Imbo, Richard Petrone Jr.
MISSING Feb. 19, 2005
Danielle Imbo missed a pedicure appointment. That was so unlike her. The concern deepened when Danielle's estranged husband, Joseph, later phoned her mom, saying Danielle was not home when he wanted to drop off their 1-year-old son Joe. "When she wasn't at that house for Little Joe, everyone knew there was absolutely something not right," says Imbo's mother, Felice Ottobre, 59. "Her life was her son."
The night before, Danielle had gone on a date in Philadelphia with her on-again, off-again boyfriend Richard Petrone Jr., then 35, who worked in his family's bakery. He too was missing the following morning. "There is no way my son went someplace and didn't tell me," says his mother, Marge, 59. The two families joined forces to scour the area, enlisting friends to check with local police departments, hospitals and towing companies. They traced the routes between Philadelphia and Danielle's apartment—across the Delaware River in Mt. Laurel, N.J.–looking for Rich's black Dodge pickup. Hours later the families were baffled. After launching their own aggressive search, the police were too. Eventually the FBI joined the investigation, with no positive results. "There's not a lipstick, a drop of blood, a hair," says Ottobre. "She vanished without a trace."
Two years later the families have not abandoned hope. They pass out leaflets, hold vigils and fax fliers to "every hospital in the country," says Danielle's brother John, the manager of a car dealership. Along with local anticrime organizations, they raised $100,000 in reward money for information about the couple's disappearance. They also printed U.S. postage stamps with Danielle's photo and erected two billboards on I-95 appealing for information. Says John: "We're going to continue to get her face out there."
The FBI continues to follow leads. "We're encouraged by some of the things we're finding out," says agent Vito Roselli, who declined to elaborate. Any word of both missing persons can't come soon enough for their mothers. "I need an answer," says Marge Petrone. Adds Felice Ottobre: "We're all just in wait mode."
MISSING Feb. 9, 1989
Tiffany Sessions, then 20 and a junior at the University of Florida, stepped outside for a run 18 years ago and never returned. Since then her mother, Hilary, doing whatever she can to find her daughter, has looked at 175 unidentified bodies across the country. She has visited more than 100 psychics. And she has left her daughter's room untouched, complete with an ALF doll on her bed and high school sports trophies on the dresser. "I was not about to let Tiffy go," says Sessions.
She will never forget her first morgue visit. It was April 1989, two months after Tiffany disappeared after leaving her Gainesville apartment in the early evening (she had left her purse with her ID behind). Hilary was informed that an unidentified girl about Tiffany's age had been found buried in Massachusetts. Shaken, she hopped a plane to Boston. "I was absolutely terrified," says Sessions, now 61. "I remember thinking, 'This can't be real. I can't be walking down this hallway to look at a dead body that may be Tiffy.'"
She remembers the overwhelming smell of formaldehyde and alcohol: "I'm sure I was shivering." But it took her only a few seconds to realize the body before her was not her daughter's: "She had a lot of the same physical features as Tiffy, but it just wasn't her." She felt relieved. But as Sessions got on the plane to return home to Tampa, the relief faded. "Of course I was happy that it wasn't my child at that morgue," she says. "But I also started wondering if I'd ever get any answers."
In 2004, Sessions became executive director of the Tampa-based Child Protection Education of America, a nonprofit group that uses high-tech fingerprint scanners set up in malls, stores and daycare centers to create IDs for children. They also raise money to buy trained bloodhounds to help police search for missing persons. "Hilary has become a real advocate for this cause," says Larry Ruby, a special agent at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the lead investigator on Tiffany's case. Says Sessions: "Everything I do is intended to bring her back home."
MISSING Nov. 29, 2005
Steve Ginsberg is on the hunt. Checking out darkened alleyways, under bushes and behind Dumpsters, he's responding to another "Jerry sighting"–a police tip or an Internet clue–in hopes of locating his lifelong friend Jerry Tang, who disappeared Nov. 29, 2005. Ginsberg has spent endless hours searching homeless shelters, parking lots and under bridges for any trace of Tang, 41, a father of two and a brainy, popular partner in a high-tech start-up firm. Following a stroke three years ago, Tang had been battling seizures, as well as balance and vision problems. "We have no reason to believe Jerry is not alive," says Ginsberg, 40. "Let's say I'm skeptically optimistic."
So are local authorities, despite the failure so far of one of the most extensive searches for a missing adult in San Francisco history, an effort involving hundreds of family members, friends, police officers, mounted and bike patrols, canine units, psychics and other volunteers. The family is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to Tang's safe return. They also have posted his missing persons flyer all over central San Francisco, on Craigslist and www.findjerry.org. "His disappearance is still a mystery," says Inspector Angela Martin, the veteran SFPD missing persons officer who heads the Tang investigation. "His case is officially still open because there were multiple credible reports of seeing someone in the city who looked like a homeless, distressed version of Jerry Tang."
After the stroke, things often overwhelmed Tang, says his wife, Joyce, 40, a nurse. "Sometimes just to cross the street was stressful. But he never wanted to complain." Tang believed that his antiseizure medication, which was due to be refilled the day he vanished, was making him foggy-headed and drowsy. But without medication "his memory could be further impaired," says his neurologist Dr. Wade Smith. "It's possible he's in a state of amnesia and doesn't know how to find his way back." His brother Austin, 43, a Berkeley architectural designer, says that Tang "had too much to live up to" and wishes that if he voluntarily "checked out" because of high-stress work and financial burdens, he comes home soon. "We keep our hope up."
- Vickie Bane/Colorado Springs,
- Sean Scully/Philadelphia,
- Steve Helling/Tampa,
- Ron Arias/San Francisco.
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