Theme 2017 – “Embracing Dignity & Courage”
Dates: March 16th through 19th of 2017
Mailing: Community United Effort (CUE Center For Missing Persons)
PO Box 12714 Wilmington, NC 28405
Office (910) 343-1131 24 hour line (910) 232-1687 Fax line (910) 399-6137
Join us for our upcoming national conference for missing persons and those who work in the arena from law enforcement, advocates, volunteering, organizations or agency, investigation, search and rescue and the identification process of those who are lost. This event is open to all who support the mission of finding a resolution for families who have suffered a missing loved one and are have been a victim of crime.
Please share this information with anyone in the line if missing person work, family of a missing person or homicide victim; see below. To contact by email firstname.lastname@example.org
◊ Advocacy concerning missing persons, families left behind or homicide victim
◊ Service agencies, non profit organization, law enforcement, search teams/groups, private investigators, coroner or those who work in the identification process
◊ Volunteers who are interested in training and becoming more involved
To learn more about CUE Center for Missing Persons please visit us at our web site http://www.ncmissingpersons.org or email us email@example.com
Thank You to our 2017 Sponsors
THE PASSAGE AWARD In Memory of “Susan Murphy Milano”
This award is given to an individual, who has suffered the loss of a loved one by being a missing person, victim of homicide or one that has survived the cruelties from intimate partner violence. This award recognizes the survivor that has healed and who has risen above to contribute oneself to those who remain in need of guidance, empowerment, support and who continually hold a devotion to the cause.
The loss of Susan has been felt across the nation, she was a true supporter of the missing and the CUE organization. She remains truly missed by all.
Registration conference check in:
March 16, 2017, Thursday, 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm
March 17, 2017, Friday 7:00 am – 9:00 am
Note: The main hall entrance to the ballroom will remain open (Thursday) all day and evening hours for any participant or sponsor to set up items, informational handouts, missing person information or visuals, table display, banners, etc. When checking into the conference please request the person in charge for this area to help you in whatever you may need to assist you for a smooth process. You can also ship your items to the CUE Center, please be advised that the hotel will not handle items delivered to the hotel.
THE CONFERENCE CONCLUDES ON SUNDAY, MARCH 19th at 1:00 pm, Sunday you will join CUE Founder, Monica Caison in training, discussion, presentation of your conference plaque and a lunch.
SORC Meeting – Thursday, March 16, 2017
State Outreach Coordinators Meeting: Closed to the public, this meeting is for directors 9:00 am 5:00 pm (Lunch will be served during meeting)
To learn more about the program and get involved please contact CUE Center anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 910-232-1687.
This meeting for is for the annual gathering and training for State Outreach Coordinators.
TRAINING ASHI CPR Pro Course:
Thursday, March 16, 2017 (6:30 pm – 10:30 pm)
Kelly is a retired sergeant with the Leon County Sheriff’s Office in Tallahassee, Fl. with 32 years of Law Enforcement experience and 8 years of Law Enforcement K-9 experience.
Kelly has been involved with Search and Rescue since 2004 and has certified canines in Human Remains Detection and Trailing. Her Certifications have been with North American Police Work Dog Association (NAPWDA) and through National Association of Search and Rescue (NASAR) as well as Network of Canine Detector Services (NOCDS). Kelly has attended numerous seminars and classes, ranging from search and rescue techniques, crime scene preservation, NIMS, HAZMAT training, Blood borne Pathogens education, and is a CPR Instructor through the American Health and Safety Institute (ASHI). Kelly is a Florida State Outreach Coordinator for CUE Center for Missing Persons.
Certifications: Trailing (NAPWDA, NOCDS, NASAR), HRD NAPWDA, NASAR, NASAR SARTECH II, Florida State K9 Instructor Criminal Justice and Training Commission (CJSTC), First Aid Instructor (CJSTC), CPR Instructor (AMA), Trailing Instructor for NOCDS
Memberships and Affiliations: First Response Search Team (Team President), CUE Center for Missing Persons, Child Abduction Response Team, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, NASAR, NOCDS
In 1987 I began my career with the Leon County Sheriff’s Office and started teaching part time at the law enforcement academy in 1994. My real passion was teaching and in 1999 I left LCSO and became a full time instructor at the law enforcement academy. In 2002 I became the Medical First Responder Program Coordinator at the Florida Public Safety Institute/Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy.
I’m a CPR and First Aid Instructor/Instructor Trainer and a Training Center Director for the American Safety and Health Institute. I have trained thousands of law enforcement, corrections and probation officers over the years in CPR and First Aid. I am a member of the First Response K-9 Search Team in Tallahassee, Florida and a State Outreach Coordinator.
We welcome this years videographer: Bryan Queen
Friday Night Conference Entertainment
Proclamation & Letters (2016)
TRAINING SESSION 2017
Peter Cestare – Horry County Police “Identifying a Crime Scene & When it begins
Norma Peterson – Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit “EAA”
Topic Guest Speakers 2017
Dr. Laura Pettler – Crime Scene Staging & Reconstruction
As a former District Attorney’s Investigator, current Deputy Coroner, and practitioner in the field, Dr. Laura Pettler specializes in field work, consulting, research, and teaching investigation and reconstruction of staged crime scenes in domestic violence homicide hot and cold cases. Laura’s passion for her work is exemplified in everything she does from her writing to teaching, in raising her Friesian horses and French Bulldogs, to DIYing her farm, all the way to her former music career and in work in television new development. Laura is the author of the world’s first book on crime scene staging and she enthusiastically works to build field-friendly systems, methods, and models used in homicide investigation. She is the inventor of the Kaleidoscope Crime Scene Reconstruction System as seen on CSI TV programs on major networks. Laura frequently appears on television and radio shows and is the host of new WebTV Series Notorious Beaver County debuting in January 2017. Website: http://laurapettler.com
Andy Whipple – “Our Homeless Kids” Street Outreach Center-Project Lighthouse
Andy Whipple, originally from Massachusetts, has been a resident of Horry County for twenty-five years. As a youth he encountered struggles similar to those youths involved with Sea Haven. At the age of thirty, he decided to go back to school and make a difference in the world, which lead him to Horry Georgetown Technical College and the Human Services Program. Immersing himself in college life he joined the Human Services Club and became Club President. Andy earned his way into Phi Theta Kappa with his academic excellence and excelled to the position of Vice President of Scholarships. He graduated Summa Cum Laude, and is now a part-time tutor at HGTC while working on his Bachelor’s Degree from Columbia College. Andy enjoys learning as much as helping others learn. Andy join the team through his full time student internship at the Street Outreach Center-Project Lighthouse. Due to his commitment and compassion, Andy moved into the position of Outreach Coordinator in May 2013, and was promoted to Program Manager in January 2016.
Lynn Sweetland – Survivor Speaker/Advocate/Abolitionist
Lynn, a survivor of sex trafficking, specializes in community outreach, advocacy, training and public speaking. Lynn’s focus is advancing prevention and awareness of human trafficking.
Lynn is a consultant for Washington DC’s Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crimes Survivor Forum, The National Survivor Network. She also serves on the advisory board for The Hope Project, a faith-based nonprofit that provides holistic services, counseling, case management and rehab services to victims of sex trafficking. She has also partnered with The Hope Project as she waits to start her own 501c3: SOSC2C (Stomping out Slavery, Coast to Coast). In addition, Lynn is also a Mentor and advisor to the Step-Froward 12-step recovery initiative to aide stability to those affected by human trafficking, as well as advisor to The Sanctum House, a safe shelter that also affords counseling and life skills trainings to victims/survivors.
Victims Hours Presentations
Families of the cases featured will share their story about their loved one and the struggles in an unforgiven journey
Missing – Randy Davis
National Candle Light Service
The annual service is hosted by the CUE Center for Missing Persons in honor of those once missing, now recovered. Families from across the country attend the water front ceremony seeking comfort, supporting the thousands who remain missing in “the unveiling of the wall”. Come and join those left behind for a beautiful tribute along Wilmington’s Cape Fear River front victim testimonies, musical dedication and so much more. Candles will be provided. The service is a part of the weekend long national conference 2016.
Saturday March 18, 2017 Time: 7:30 pm (Open to the public and candles will be provided)
Mistress of Ceremony – Sandra McClammy “The Midday Miss on Coast97.3”
Sandra McClammy aka “Sandra, The Midday Miss” was born and raised in Wilmington, NC. A graduate of the city’s inner city high school, New Hanover High, and the city’s college, UNCW has afforded her an excellent balance. As a teen growing up in the “hood” she vowed to never forget her roots and to grow socially in a manner by which she could have a conversation with anyone. As she grew into an adult, she learned how it is essential to recognize and embrace the desperate educational, social and economic conditions that affect young people. Today she has placed herself in the educational arena and entertainment world and thus educates youth via “edutainment”.
As a dancer and radio personality, Sandra understands how movement and music can provide solstice to the soul. With this Sandra also believes that as an educator it is critical to study and understand how we as adults can continue to help youth succeed despite the overwhelming odds against them. They must believe that they have a significant role in our society. Sandra is a UNCW graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature & Language and a Master’s Degree in Liberal Arts. Among the many boards and committees she serves on from the UNCW Alumni Board of Directors as Vice- Chair, to the Black Arts Alliance of Wilmington, she is also a proud member of the Wilmington Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. As a member of worldwide DJ coalition, Core DJs, she is the host and the producer of the syndicated CORE DJ Radio Show. For Cumulus Broadcasting she is the music director and midday host on COAST 97.3. Sandra has been in radio for 17 years.
Guest Speaker –
Reading of the Poem Dedication – Sheree Justus
Sheree has been a CUE volunteer since the late 90’s and is dedicated to the cause and the families that suffer a missing loved one. Her search for the right words to address those in need of hope each year are of a great need and one she does with honor.
Vocal Tribute – TBA
National Prayer – Pastor Angie Davis
Reverend Angie Davis is fully ordained as a minister of the gospel. She has been in many positions of leadership in and outside of the church. Her present position is as an ordained Elder at Inspirational House of Praise in Leland, NC, where she is also the Praise and Worship leader. She is passionate in her endeavor of preaching and teaching the gospel as well as being a spiritual counselor to those in need.
She is also employed with local Ophthalmologist, Dr. Laura Harris, where she is the Surgical Coordinator. At present, she has been committed to officiating the National Candlelight Vigil Prayer for CUE for many years. It is her prayer that God will give the families comfort and courage as well as Hope through the Word of God and the knowledge that He is always there to lift them up. She is the mother of two children, Matt and Hannah. The grandmother of three, Caleb, Kameron and Savannah. She resides in in Winnabow, NC.
Vocal Tribute – TBA
Candle Light Service Honorees
This October 2017 we will set out on tour again to revive cold case of the missing, unsolved homicide and those who have not yet been identified. If you have a case and would like to be considered to be featured, host a rally stop or event, please contact CUE as soon as possible to assure you or your stop can be honored. States we will be traveling through are: NC, SC, GA, FL and out west states are to be determine
WHAT IS A RALLY STOP?
A rally stop is a place that is pre set by anyone who wishes to host one “see below” for suggested person(s). Once a location is secured CUE will inform the host of time and date of arrival. Each stop is one hour and a half long for whatever program the host wishes to have and feature; this is your time to bring an awareness to your community of missing persons.
WHAT ARE SOME IDEAS FOR A RALLY STOP?
Candle light or prayer vigils, clothes line display project, lantern launch
Balloon release, flower toss, butterfly release, roadside displays or demonstrations
Display Board, Banners, Signs, Marques
Guest Speakers; law enforcement, town/state dignitaries, community leaders, pastor, etc.
Tribute performances (vocal or dance)
Tables set up for displays of missing persons photos and information
Public event or safety activities
Invite the families of unsolved homicide, missing, public, family, friends and media (our team will aid in media coverage)
The most important thing is to be creative in your rally stop
WHAT TYPE OF LOCATIONS HAVE BEEN USED FOR RALLY STOPS?
Police – Sheriff or police departments
Government agencies, i.e. Mayor, town hall
Parking lots of stores that have frontage or businesses alike
Home of the families of the missing
Parks of any kind or large grassy areas
Local churches, schools, community buildings
National Tour Purpose and Inspiration
The annual tour was created to generate new interest in cold cases of missing people across our nation. The inspiration came in 2004 from the case of North Carolina college student Leah Roberts, who had gone on a cross-country trip of self-exploration. Her wrecked and abandoned vehicle was found, but Leah is still missing. Leah’s case went cold and interest faded until CUE volunteers set out on a grueling 14-day trip to retrace her route and inform the media of all those who were missing in the path of the tour. In the years to follow, it only seemed right to keep hope alive after families across the country voiced the need for more help and supported the tour idea.
National Tour Objective
The national road tour, called “On the Road to Remember,” is an awareness campaign that focuses on missing persons cases that have gone cold or have not received appropriate media coverage on the local level – much less the national level.. The tour, which travels through many states annually, provides that attention.
In all cases of missing people, it is vital to inform the public of the missing person’s circumstancesO quickly and to disseminate that information to the media and the public. In most cases where details are released immediately to the public through an organized campaign, the public brings forth information that aids in the investigation and or the location of the victim. The media plays a significant role in getting the word out on the behalf of the missing person and should be recognized as a vital resource to any investigation.
Interest in many of the cases we have featured in previous tours has been renewed. The media has learned about local cases they were unaware of; case investigations have been renewed, and searches conducted. Information has resulted in new leads in some cases, and has even helped identify an unknown decedent and in 2008 solved a cold case of twenty eight years. And finally, each tour some of the missing featured have been found from various efforts, which is the main reason we conduct the tour despite the toll it takes on our all-volunteer staff.
It is the belief of the CUE Center for Missing Persons that all investigations, the public, volunteers and the media should work in collaboration on cases involving missing children and adults; until this happens, their will continue to be cases of the missing labeled “cold” or “inactive.”
WHAT DO I NEED TO SUBMIT MY MISSING PERSON
All vital stats on missing person
Agency and law enforcement contact numbers and web sites concerning missing person
Written consent for your missing person to be featured in the national tour line up
In her 18-plus years as an advocate, Monica Caison has seen it all: The car stereo store owner who staged his disappearance to avoid creditors. The 9-year-old boy missing four months before being found dead, tucked into a suitcase and stashed behind a drug store. The killer who sent her a map pinpointing the location of his last victim.
All those cases drew a focused response from Caison’s Wilmington-based nonprofit, the CUE Center for Missing Persons, a sprawling network of volunteers whose growth in recent years is underscored by its rapidly expanding reach across the country.
But the organization was not always this big.
The tragedy that lifted CUE from obscurity to mainstream was the disappearance of Peggy Carr, a 32-year-old kidnapped at random by two men in a parking lot outside a city shopping center in April 1998.
Then a nascent and relatively unknown organization, CUE took a leading role in spearheading the quest for Carr in a case that galvanized much of the community. As the search unfolded over seven months, CUE helped feed, house and alleviate the financial and emotional strain on Carr’s family as searchers pursued her whereabouts.
CUE built on the credence and knowledge it gained during that formative time 14 years ago to grow from a blip in the voluminous world of missing persons to a nationally recognized support system. Today, it enjoys a reputation as a nationwide web of volunteers, still headquartered in the Port City, willing to marshal resources for missing persons and their families at a moment’s notice.
Carr’s mother, Penny Carr Britton, grew so close to Caison and CUE as the search for her daughter unfurled that she remains actively involved with the organization to this day. In March, she attended CUE’s eighth annual national conference, a gathering of field experts, families, search and rescue groups and law enforcement officials in Wilmington every year.
“When we got here, we didn’t know a soul. We didn’t know what to do,” Britton recalled about 1998, when she and other members of her family traveled from Ohio to assist in the search. “For seven months, Monica walked me through my life.”
In the years before Carr’s case became a high-profile drama, CUE had established itself as a mainstay for families on the emotional rollercoaster that follows the disappearance of a loved one. But the group had been struggling to define its mission, operating more on the periphery than the center.
Carr’s disappearance marked a turning point. The case swung nationwide attention on this corner of North Carolina. People seemed captivated by first the mystery of why she vanished and then the callousness of her murder. But it also shone a spotlight on CUE as the organization sought to assert itself as a community stalwart and family advocate.
Carr was months away from her wedding when two strangers abducted her outside a shopping center at the corner of Oleander Drive and Dawson Street on April 22, 1998. Held at gunpoint, she was forced to drive about 40 minutes to the edge of a soybean field in rural Bladen County, where the assailants killed her and left her body beneath berry bushes.
For the next seven months, nobody but the killers knew her whereabouts. As the search progressed, Britton and other family members, many of whom uprooted their lives in Ohio to live in North Carolina while the case developed, grasped for answers.
CUE, meanwhile, stepped in to relieve what anxieties it could, Britton said. The group not only nudged the case forward, but covered the family members’ hotel expenses, brought them dinner every night and did other small things to ameliorate their stress. Caison glued herself to Britton’s side, becoming a shoulder to lean on as she walked Britton through the whirlwind of emotion and bureaucracy that confronted them.
“I always tell people, that was our landmark case,” Caison, a stark blonde whose vigor, focus and dynamic personality make her a charismatic figure among victims’ families. “It was a crash course in seven months for every avenue I’d be working with for the rest of my life.”
Caison runs the organization from her home off Gordon Road in an office decorated more like a police station than a nonprofit center: Hanging from the wall are maps of the United States, missing persons posters and framed portraits of murder victims. A row of black file cabinets stand at the back wall. By her desk sit boxes overflowing with papers and manila folders.
From headquarters, Caison can connect with search teams, law enforcement officials, caseworkers and fundraisers from coast to coast. While the group has sought answers in cases ranging from teenage runaways to suicides and murders, the group claims as its token feature the attention it places on cases gone cold, in which the victim vanished years or even decades ago.
“What interested me about Monica is she would take the cases everybody else had given up on,” said Marshia Morton, a CUE volunteer based in Missouri. “She would beat the bushes and rattle some chains until she had a direction to go on.”
Recent developments have further solidified the organization’s status as a national order. Earlier this year, CUE rolled out a state director program in an effort to bolster its presence and streamline resource delivery. The plan envisions installing four outreach coordinators in each state within five years to act as liaisons to raise money, identify needs and assist families. Twenty-seven coordinators are now spread across 12 states, including four in North Carolina.
The directors, for example, are responsible for helping families file missing persons reports, elicit news coverage for their case and spread awareness about their missing loved one online and in the community through websites and billboards, among other things.
Dawn Drexel, one of two coordinators serving in New York, is among many whose participation stems at least in part from personal tragedy.
Drexel’s daughter, Brittanee, has been featured on a series of national television programs, from “Nancy Grace” to “Good Morning America,” since vanishing three years ago. A 17-year-old looking forward to high school graduation, the Rochester, N.Y. teen disappeared in Myrtle Beach in April 2009 during a spring break trip with friends.
In the investigation’s early steps, authorities tracked Brittanee’s cellphone to a swampland in Georgetown County, about 50 miles south of Myrtle Beach. Over the next two weeks, CUE mobilized some 200 searchers to scour the treacherous terrain.
Plump bugs swarmed. Snakes slithered. ATVs had to roll through the woods every few minutes to scare the alligators back into the river. Canine handlers carried six-shooters to protect their dogs, Drexel said.
Though Brittanee’s whereabouts remain unknown, Drexel’s experience put her on a path toward advocating for families undergoing similar heartache.
“She teaches you a lot of things, how to remain strong,” Drexel said about Caison. “She’s built me up to the point where I’m now able to advocate for Brittanee and also help support other families going through the same thing.”
In addition to advocating for missing persons, CUE runs internship programs for university and college students.
Allie Jeffords, a student at Ashley High School, chose CUE as the subject of her senior project. As part of her work, she enlisted family members and friends to assist her in throwing a fundraiser on a recent weekend outside K-Mart on South College Road to collect donations of money and office supplies.
Jeffords has known Caison since she was a child.
“She always instilled in us how important it was for the missing persons to be heard,” Jeffords said. “They do have a family member out there that needs to find them.”
To better coordinate its widespread string of volunteers, the group hopes to launch an online database in coming months to store and aggregate volunteer and resource information in one, centralized location accessible from anywhere in the world.
Christy Davis, a CUE volunteer whose Florida-based company, International Technical Industries, is creating the database, said the Web-based tool is expected to streamline the assembly of search teams and other resources. Also, the program might improve its chances of winning grant money by tracking hours volunteers spend in the field.
Rallying search parties quickly is an important capability in an arena where time may mean the difference between life and death, an open or closed casket.
In interviews, CUE members said the organization exists in part to bridge a gap between families and law enforcement. The latter, constrained by increasingly tight budgets and finite manpower, are sometimes unable to muster resources that families believe their cases deserve.
The volume of missing persons reports filed each year is staggering. In 2010, 85,820 people were reported missing nationwide, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But law enforcement officials say a vast majority of those involve people skipping town voluntarily. Since state and local governments have been forced to shed officers to fill budget gaps, detectives more than ever have to weigh relevant facts before launching a full-fledged investigation.
“You can’t treat everyone like an abduction. You don’t have the resources to do that,” said Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous. “You have to look at each case and look at the merits of it and see if there’s any real indicators” on whether they left of their own volition.
Evangelous has personally witnessed those frustrations expressed among families. In 1991, his cousin in Massachusetts vanished.
The police handling her case failed to treat it seriously, the chief said, despite the family’s assertions that she was an unlikely runaway. As it turns out, the man with whom she was last seen had killed her, stored her body in a plastic bag and left her in his closet. Police visited the man’s home but never searched inside. Officers eventually arrested the culprit, but only after he dumped the body in another location. He is now in prison.
Evangelous said CUE has become involved in various cases being investigated by city detectives over recent years. That includes the disappearances of Allison Jackson-Foy, 34, and Angela Nobles Rothen, 42, whose remains were eventually found in the woods off Carolina Beach Road. Both died at knifepoint. Their killings have not been solved.
Jackson-Foy’s sister, Lisa Valentino, now serves as a state outreach coordinator in New Jersey.
From missing to searching
Caison’s troubled teen life made her an unlikely candidate for matriarch of such a sizable missing persons organization. Through hours of interviews, she chronicled her life’s progression, from the beginning as a poor girl on the southside of St. Petersburg, Fla, to a missing persons advocate whose work brings her to far-flung corners of the country.
Always close to her family, Caison’s rebellious streak kicked off after her parents divorced. She ran away from home multiple times as a teenager, with her parents reporting her missing more than once. She hitchhiked around the country and lied about her age to find work, staying for a while before she circled back home.
“I was definitely a juvenile delinquent,” Caison said. “I was rebellious because I wanted my family back, I wanted my parents back.”
During those influential years, Caison learned about people’s ability for self-realization and change. “I was that person who was very likely to end up in a ditch somewhere,” she recalled. But “look who I became now. Look at what I’ve done with my life and my community. So should we be so quick to judge?”
By 18, she moved to Southeastern North Carolina to live with her mother and siblings. But she found her mother involved in an abusive relationship and, fed up with her stepfather’s rage, moved into her own place. In 1985, Caison, then 22, married her longtime boyfriend, Samuel.
As she grew older, child-rearing and volunteer work came to dominate Caison’s life. Her time revolved around public schools, which her children attended. Over time, she fell into the role of nonprofit volunteer, raising money for various charities and working with troubled youth.
In the early 1990s, Caison’s volunteerism led her to Karen Brown, the founder of the Non-Profit for Public Safety and Awareness. Brown dissolved the organization soon thereafter, but not before convincing Caison to carry the torch with her own nonprofit. Inspired by tragedies in her own life and the disappearances of people she was close to, Caison chose to draw attention toward something she felt needed more: missing persons.
In 1994, CUE was born.
Since its inception, the group has processed more than 9,000 cases of missing people. CUE pours volumes of time and resources into each one, Caison said, printing fliers, buying billboards, creating websites and launching searches.
Families lauded the efforts. But while they work in conjunction with law enforcement on cases, some police officials have expressed concerns that CUE’s assertiveness can pose a risk to the integrity of criminal cases. And some other search and rescue groups have questioned CUE’s reliance on private donations instead of government funding and grants, calling its fundraising tactics over-aggressive.
Despite the criticisms, CUE has worked frequently with law enforcement officials and search and rescue officials in a variety of states to help families home in on missing loved ones.
Lori Roberts, of Wilmington, credited the group with finding her daughter’s 13-year-old friend when she vanished from Killeen, Texas. CUE offered a reward for information about the girl’s whereabouts, generating the tip that led authorities to her location.
“They suspected she was going to be trafficked over the Mexican border,” said Roberts, now a state outreach coordinator for North Carolina. She said Caison stayed in touch with the family throughout the investigation, always answering her phone, even if it rang at 3:30 a.m. “I was so scared and kept begging Monica, ‘You have to find her.’ ”
Since CUE draws solely on volunteers for its manpower, nobody accepts a paycheck. A big “0” has always appeared beside Caison’s name under the income disclosure portion of the group’s tax forms.
A mother’s path
On the day she vanished, Carr left to run errands, leaving her fiance a note that read, “Be back soon.” While she was inside the store, a white Mazda carrying Curtis Cobbs and Bem Holloway pulled into the parking lot.
As Carr was starting her black Geo Tracker and getting ready to leave the shopping center, Holloway jumped into the passenger seat. He first tried to pay her to drive him somewhere. But when she refused, he brandished a gun and ordered her to follow the Mazda, which was being driven by Cobbs.
The gun didn’t actually work, but Carr could not have known.
The trip took her over the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, past rusted barns and dusty convenience stores that border N.C. 87, finally ending in a Bladen County soybean field. Cobbs later testified that Holloway stabbed Carr while he watched.
The men had wanted her car, betting it would make a fine getaway vehicle in a robbery later on. But they eventually decided against using it. Instead, they dumped the GEO about 16 miles away, on the shores of Lake Waccamaw.
Britton still struggles with the knowledge of her daughter’s death. Since her body was found, Carr’s friends and family have turned the scene into a memorial complete with wind chimes, small stone sculptures and day lilies now proliferating beyond the picket fence that surrounds the site. They regularly visit the spot to clear out weeds and lay new mulch.
After killing Carr, Holloway and Cobbs went on a crime spree through Columbus and Robeson counties. They were later imprisoned for their crimes. Holloway was shot to death the next year during an escape attempt at a prison work farm near the Virginia line. Cobbs’ sentence ended earlier this year.
Britton learned about Cobb’s release for the first time on the day she was accompanied by a StarNews reporter and photographer to the murder scene in March. The reporter looked him up in the prison database later that day, and notified her that Cobbs had been let go two months before. Nobody contacted her beforehand. She thought he had more time to serve.
The day after deputies came across Carr’s remains in November 1998, Britton visited the site to lay eyes on the field where her daughter spent her last moments. The sight uncorked her bottled emotions. She wailed so palpably that deputies and search volunteers standing in earshot joined her in crying. Caison, glued to her side, hugged the grieving mother.
The next day’s newspaper ran a photo which captured that scene, showing Britton clasped in an emotional embrace with the blonde-haired woman she’d come to consider part of the family.
Brian Freskos: 343-2327
On Twitter: @BrianFreskos
Throughout all stages of a missing persons investigation, up to the point of its positive or negative resolution, there is only one verifiable victim: the family of that missing person. The missing person might have been abducted, or worse, but from the moment that someone considers the absence of a loved one to necessitate a 911 call, the family that makes that call is going to be caught in a whirlpool of fear, panic and helplessness that most people dont understand and law enforcement officials rarely have the resources to address in any sustained way.
In Wilmington, however, these families have an advocate, a fierce, hands-on assistant in the search for missing loved ones. Her name is Monica Caison, and shes the founder and director of the Community United Effort (CUE) Center for Missing Persons, a nonprofit organization based in Wilmington, which, since 1994, has been aggressive in its attempts to keep missing person cases from going “cold” or “inactive.” By marshalling nationwide resources that include law enforcement personnel and an army of volunteers, the CUE Center has been instrumental in returning loved ones to their families, creating a sort of template for families confronted by such a loss, a blueprint for action that combines elements of the actual search process with a powerful family support tool hope.
“Shes tops, as far as Im concerned,” says Marc Benson, a private investigator, former detective in the New Hanover County Sheriffs Department, recent candidate for the sheriffs job and the host of Blue Line Radio on The Big Talker (106.3 FM). “I first ran into her 16 or 17 years ago, when I was a detective sergeant in the Sheriffs Department.”
Bensons first impression of Caison left him thinking she was just a “soccer mom,” doing what she could to find people whod gone missing thinking, too, “Good for her, but were the professionals here, so dont call us, well call you.”
In the spring of 1998, Benson found himself re-assessing his original impressions of Caison and her organization. In April of that year, 32-year-old bride-to-be Peggy Carr was abducted from a mall parking lot in Wilmington. One day, she was here; the next day, she was not. Shed disappeared quickly and completely, and lacking evidence to the contrary, law enforcement officials considered the possibility that her disappearance, in spite of her impending marriage, was voluntary. Without a clue to work on, the investigation languished. Displeased with this sort of response from law enforcement officials, Peggys mother called Monica Caison, whose private phone remains the direct line to what was then the fledgling and relatively unknown CUE Center for Missing Persons. Seven months after Peggys disappearance, Caison and her volunteer army were instrumental in discovering the whereabouts of Carrs remains in Bladen County.
“It became a multi-state investigation, a national media case,” says Caison, “and it taught us everything. We worked side by side with law enforcement, set up a 24-hour tip line. The FBI would pick up our logs. We were learning, too. It was the first time, really, that the full weight of the resources (we had) came to bear. We kept (the case) in the public eye, just kept plugging and plugging, constantly searching. It was our landmark case.”
More important than Caisons literal presence beating the bushes, actually searching was the support she gave to the family.
“Monica would just sit for hours and comfort me,” said Peggy Carrs mother in an interview for People magazine in March 2009, months after her daughters body had been discovered.
“My respect for her increased because of the presence she had with that family,” says Benson, who, at the time, was looking on from the Sheriff Departments sidelines, because it was a Wilmington PD case. “She went up there (to Bladen County) with volunteers and canvassed the area with pictures. She made sure that everybody up there looked at every little detail (coming out of the investigation). I was quite impressed with the resources she was able to pull together.”
What is so striking about Monica Caisons work with the CUE Center is the individual, up-close-and-personal effort she invests in countless, physical searches for these people, and the tireless campaign she wages to keep families in the loop of any ongoing investigation. Law enforcement agencies, from the local to the national, may falter during an investigation, due to a lack of either resources or will, but from the moment the CUE Center and, specifically, Monica Caison steps aboard, families are assured that their missing loved one will not, in Monicas lifetime, be forgotten until theyre found. In most cases (though not all), the outcome is not good. Caison is more often than not searching for a body, and she is known for a stubborn, relentless and often un-appreciated approach to any obstacles in her way.
“Our world is becoming an open graveyard for missing people,” Caison says, “because nobodys paying attention. You can bet that if people heard on the news that four airplanes were crashing every day in this country, somebody would be doing something.”
CUE’S SEARCH EFFORT
You can help make a difference by supporting the CUE Center for Missing Persons in its online campaign in an effort to raise funds for their continued search effort for missing children and adults; CUE (Community United Effort) is a 501(c)3 tax exempt national organization.
In 1994 the CUE Center for Missing Persons was founded to aid cases of missing persons; funded entirely by donations, and staffed by volunteers. CUE Founder Monica Caison, has dedicated her life to the plight of missing people; which is focused on finding the missing by way of investigation and active search efforts, advocating for their causes, and supporting their families. Since its inception, CUE has helped more than 9,000 families in what is often the most confusing and desperate times of their lives.
Thank you for any consideration.
Building on her experiences as a troubled teen, Ms Caison has developed an unsurpassed reputation as a vigilante for justice in the quest for missing persons. She has built a network of support to assist families to locate their missing loved ones through CUE – Community United Effort ‘Center for Missing Persons’ which she founded in 1994 and which has as its mission – To join efforts with all concerned, seeking closure of tragedies; as we remain in search of the missing. A wife and mother, Ms Caison often sacrifices her time with her family and uses her own resources to ensure that missing family members of people who need her services are not just a statistic. …Read more here
When Someone Goes Missing and Clues Dry Up, Many Call in Monica Caison—a North Carolina Volunteer Sleuth Who Specializes in Cases Gone Cold
After her parents died, Leah Roberts felt lost. Inspired by the work of Beat author Jack Kerouac, the 23-year-old North Carolina State student hit the road to reexamine her life. In March 2000 she drove cross-country to Bellingham, Wash. There, that March 13, she bought a ticket to the movie American Beauty. Five days later her Jeep Cherokee was found in a park. “There was no body, no blood,” says her sister Kara, 31. “Her valuables were there—cash, guitar, my mother’s engagement ring. The car’s windows had been busted out and covered with blankets—like someone had been living in it.”
For months Kara prayed for a break in the case, but police had few leads. Then someone told her about Monica Caison, a mother of five from Wilmington, N.C, who has become one of the nation’s foremost citizen sleuths. In 1994 Caison launched the nonprofit Community United Effort (CUE) for Missing Persons. Her goal is to keep unsolved cases—even long cold ones—alive by any means necessary. With help from 5,000 CUE members, Caison prints up flyers, woos the media, raises money and pressures officials to keep the heat on. She also acts as a guardian angel to distraught loved ones. “My concern is what a missing loved one does to a family—it tears them apart,” she says. “Whether they need an aspirin or a call to the governor, I’ll stay with them. Whatever will help.”
She also organizes searches-trudging into remote areas with her German shepherd Heidi. Working with law enforcement, CUE helps in about 600 cases a year; in the vast majority the missing person—or body—is found. “There will be times when there’s a dead end, but Monica never stops,” says Sheriff Hubert Peterkin of Hoke County, N.C. “We can’t afford not to use her.”
Most of Caison’s work, which is funded by donations, centers on North Carolina. But she also travels the country to help in high-profile cases and appears on national TV shows such as Unsolved Mysteries. Still, she’s careful not to give families false hope. “I won’t tell them I will find their loved one,” she says. “I won’t tell them not to worry.”
It’s a lesson she learned in her first high-profile search: the 1998 case of Peggy Carr, a 32-year-old bride-to-be from Wilmington abducted in a carjacking. After seven months in a massive CUE-led search, a volunteer found Carr’s body in a field 50 miles from where she had been taken. Despite the outcome, Carr’s mother, Penny Carr Britton, is grateful: “Monica would sit for hours and just comfort me.” But the heartbreak takes its toll: The case of a 9-year-old boy found stuffed in a suitcase sent Caison to bed for four days. “I was asked to plan the funeral,” she says. “When it came to selecting the casket, I didn’t think I could do it.” She did.
Few would have predicted Caison’s calling when she was growing up, one of 11 children, in St. Petersburg, Fla. When her parents, John, a shoe salesman, and Irene (both deceased), divorced, Caison, who remained with her father, spun out of control. “I started running with gangs,” she says. At 15, though, she went straight after joining her mother in North Carolina. There she met her husband of 20 years, Sam, 40, a subcontractor, and settled down. In 1994 she volunteered for a safety-awareness group that fingerprinted local children. When the group’s director left, Caison took over, and CUE took shape. “I felt compelled to help,” she says.
In her first search Caison helped find a teen runaway in four days. But increasingly, she has specialized in adults like Leah Roberts-whose loved ones don’t have the resources available to families of missing kids. Five years have passed, but Caison has kept working the case, taking a caravan of volunteers on a Road to Remember tour last year to trace Leah’s route west. “She won’t give up until we find her,” says Kara Roberts. And no matter what happens, Caison says she’ll keep searching for missing persons. “We do it,” she says, “because everyone is someone’s child.”
Richard Jerome. Michaele Ballard in Charlotte, N.C, and Kristin Harmel in Charleston, S.C.
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- Looking for Leah
- For five years Kara Roberts has held out hope that her little sister Leah will somehow return home. With Monica Caison’s help, she is still searching for her
When I think of Leah, I think of the bond we had growing up. We’re two years apart, and we took care of each other in difficult times. She blossomed into a beautiful young woman and talked of joining the Peace Corps. Leah could often be found in a coffee shop writing in her composition book, and I thought maybe one day she’d write the great American novel. Now, when I drive by a cafe, I think of her. In a weird way it’s a comfort, like when I hear the song “Circle,” by Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, which she loved. Or when I see a bag of Cheetos and think how she loved them when she was little. Thinking of Leah also makes me feel lost. I always felt the need to look out for her-and it’s hard to know I can’t protect her now.
If you have information about the whereabouts of Leah Roberts, please contact the Whatcom County, Wash., Sheriff at (360) 676-6707, Det. Joseph, Ext. 50445 or CUE at (910) 232-1687.