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
THEME 2013 ” A Pathway to Resolution “
Join us for our upcoming national conference for missing persons and all who work in the arena from advocating, volunteering, 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 or have been a victim of crime.
THE CONFERENCE CONCLUDES ON SUNDAY, MARCH 24th @ 1:00 pm with a round table open floor discussion, presentation of your conference plaque and a catered lunch.
Please share this information to anyone in this line of advocacy or missing person work, family of a missing person or homicide victim.
To learn more about CUE Center for Missing Persons please visit us at our web site www.ncmissingpersons.org or email us firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTICE: (This conference is a pre – registration conference ONLY) please contact our center for details, thank you.
Meeting – Thursday, March 21, 2013
State Outreach Coordinators Meeting: Closed to the public, this meeting is for directors 10:00 am 5:00 pm (Lunch will be served during meeting)
TRAINING – Thursday, March 21, 2013 (6:30 pm – 10:30 pm)
ASHI – American Safety and Health Institute CPR Pro Course. This course will include instruction in adult, child and infant CPR, conscious and unconscious choking, and use of an AED. Each student must perform each skill at the required level to meet the hands-on proficiency and successfully pass a 30 question written exam. This is a 4 hour course and course completion is valid for two years.
Instructor: Karin Bergholm
Recently retired Law Enforcement Officer after 27 years, Karin worked with the Florida Marine Patrol, Fish and Wildlife Commission, The Florida Park Police and Jackson County Sheriff Office.
Karin also is a certified ASHSI CPR instructor, First Responder and Driving Instructor for Police recruits at Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy in North West Florida.
Her other interests include volunteering with the CUE Center for missing persons, photography, fishing, woodworking and her dogs.
Instructor: Stephanie A. White
Stephanie attended Tallahassee Community College and became licensed as an Emergency Medical Technician in the State of Florida in 1987. She began her career in 1987 as an EMT and Correctional Officer for the Leon County Sheriff’s Office and has been certified as a CPR and FDLE First Responder Instructor since 1994. In 1999 she became the Medical First Responder Program Coordinator at the Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy / Florida Public Safety Institute where she has trained thousands of recruits to become Florida law enforcement, corrections and correctional probation officers. She has participated numerous times on curriculum development for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for Basic Recruit Training. Stephanie is also a Training Center Director and CPR Instructor Trainer for the American Safety and Health Institute. Certifications: ASHI CPR Instructor Trainer, FDLE Medical First Responder Instructor, Florida Emergency Medical Technician
Instructor: Sgt. Kelly Walker
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 Heart Association (AMA).
Certifications: Trailing (NAPWDA, NOCDS), 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
Registration check in for conference attendees: 4:00 pm – 10:00 pm
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 24th @ 1:00 pm with a round table open floor discussion, presentation of your conference plaque and a catered lunch.
Please share this information to anyone in this line of advocacy or missing person work, family of a missing person or homicide victim. To learn more about CUE Center for Missing Persons please visit us at our web site www.ncmissingpersons.org or email us email@example.com
NOTICE: (This conference is a pre – registration conference ONLY) please contact our center for details, thank you.
Download and print registration form below
Submit Registration: Mailing Address (CUE) PO Box 12714 Wilmington, NC 28405
Ph: (910) 343-1131 or (910) 232-1687 Fax: (910) 399-6137
Location: Courtyard Marriott Hotel
Note: Do not contact the hotel to register, the CUE Center for Missing Persons is responsible for submission of the rooming list and providing airport travel arrangements of all conference attendees.
Want to become a 2013 sponsor?
Download your packet here for printing forms, please mail them with your check payable to:
CUE Center For Missing Persons
PO Box 12714
Wilmington, NC 28405
Proclamation & Letters (2013)
Meet The 2013 Sponsors…more to come!
Cold Case Investigative Research: Instructor, Sheryl McCollum
Sheryl McCollum began her career with training at the Rape Crisis Center at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, GA. At this center, she received some of her best hands on training and contact with victims. She went on to work for the Department of Corrections, the Secretary of State and an internship with the FBI during the Pan American Games in Indianapolis, IN.
Her training and education led her to the Crime Commission and an assignment with Operation Weed and Seed, a federal task force that combines federal, state and local law enforcement to combat crime in dangerous areas. During the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Sheryl was the Coordinator of a state wide response team formed to assist victims of crime during the games. When a bomb was detonated at the Olympic site, Sheryl and her team were on the scene within 45 minutes giving aid to over 100victims.Along with becoming the State Director of Mothers Against Driving, Sheryl attained the rank of Captain in the Special Ops Division of the Reserve Unit with the Fulton County, GA Sheriff’s Office, and was the Director of police training in the Atlanta District Attorney’s Office under their Domestic Violence Project.
While Sheryl was investigating for Cobb County, GA Juvenile Court, she began teaching college part time. She became an International Law Enforcement Trainer for the Department of State. She had the opportunity to create two Cold Case Squads after attending the prestigious Henry Lee Institute and recently completed training as a Crime Scene Tech for the state of GA, providing value to her position with Pine Lake Police Department Cold Case Squad.
With over 25 years of experience and education, Sheryl is currently the Director of the Cold Case Investigative Research Institute, which is collaboration between Auburn University Montgomery, Faulkner University and Bauder College. This collaboration brings together researchers, practitioners, students and the criminal justice community to develop new capabilities and work collectively to advance research, training and techniques in solving cold cases. The objectives of CCIRI are to provide the means, resources and guidance for Criminal Justice students throughout all Kaplan Higher Education to determine the solvability of actual unsolved crimes.
Human Trafficking in the United States, Homeland Sercurity
This program will be presented by an ICE – Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent who specializes in human trafficking and human exploitation investigations. This program will provide a brief introduction to the overall case work conducted by HSI Special Agents within the United States and across the globe, and will then provide an introduction to the crimes of human smuggling, human trafficking (foreign nationals and U.S. Citizens), interstate prostitution, and child exploitation.
Legal Rights, When Your Left Behind: Holly Hughes
For 10 years Attorney Holly Hughes has served as a Senior Assistant District Attorney with the Fulton County District Attorney’s office in Atlanta, GA where she prosecuted some of the most high-profile cases in the United States, including working on the murder case against Ray Lewis, superstar with the Baltimore Ravens. Holly Hughes was a triple threat prosecuting homicides, hate crimes and high profile felony cases.
Prior to making a name for herself as a tough big-city prosecutor, she also worked as an attorney specializing in Discrimination and Civil Rights.Holly Hughes has hosted the highly popular “Nancy Grace Show” on CNN Headline News Channel, and continues to appear as a frequent guest on the program as well as appearing as an expert witness onSwift Justice with Nancy Grace. She has also appeared on Court TV as a frequent commentator and legal analyst since 2003. Additionally, she appears regularly on Tru TV’s “In Session” and CNN HLN’s “Prime News.”
With over 100 media appearances Hughes has been qualified as an expert in high profile litigation and criminal procedure with the Cold Case Research Institute of Georgia. She is a frequent guest lecturer at local colleges, universities and law schools. She has been honored in Madison Avenue’s Who’s Who of Young Professionals.After ten years with the DA’s Office, Holly Hughes is now in private practice in Atlanta, handling criminal defense and civil litigation.
Special Guest Topic Speakers
Kevin Honeycutt – The Internet, bullies and more
He is currently serving his ninth year as a Technology Integration Specialist at ESSDACK, an educational service center based in Hutchinson, Kansas. At ESSDACK he researches and designs programs, training and staff development with a strong passion for helping teachers and learners become successful with educational uses of technology. He shares his thinking and learning on his blog Tradigital Learning and in his podcast Driving Questions in Education.
He is a school board member in the town of Inman Kansas and is currently serving in his second term. He feels that one of his most important roles is to help vision what the future holds for learners and to help move schools in right, new directions. During his classroom tenure, he developed project-based approaches to learning that infused technology and problem solving skills. He created a film program for kids and developed it into a fully functioning curriculum at the high school level. He co-developed a PBL approach called the Life Practice Model with colleague Ginger Lewman and they provide training and certification in this powerful, student driven approach to learning.
Kevin has developed online safety, anti-bullying and cyber-bullying curriculum which he shares with parents, teachers and students around the country. He certifies instructors in this curriculum and supports trainers as they go out and do this important work. His recent book Don’t Stay Under The Couch Starbuck and The Bully is the centerpiece of his Pre-K-6 curriculum. He continues to work with schools to develop innovative, engaging curriculum to better prepare learners for the world they will face when they graduate. He is passionate about meeting the needs of at-risk learners and works with kids in juvenile detention, developing approaches to re-engage the “lost” learner. Kevin travels the country and the world speaking at conferences and working with educators at the grassroots level and likes to promote a “tradigital” approach to education.
Kevin likes to bring his personal life experience and a sense of humor and creativity to the mission of helping prepare 21st century learners!
Shadow People - Michelle Cruz
Attorney Michelle Cruz, has over twenty years experience working with crime victims. In November of 2007 by Governor M. Jodi Rell appointed Attorney Cruz as Connecticut’s 2nd State Victim Advocate to head the Office of the Victim Advocate, an independent crime victims’ rights agency.
She has argued numerous motions on behalf of CT crime victims, including successfully arguing for the surviving family member of the Cheshire CT triple homicide, Dr. William Petit, to attend the entire capital murder trial. She was successful in advocating for the creation of a State Missing Persons Unit within the CT’s Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.
Attorney Cruz has an Associates Degree in Administration of Justice from Napa Valley College, a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and a Law Degree from the University of Connecticut, School of Law, where she was a Notes and Comments Editor on the Public Interest Law Journal.
After law school she served as an Assistant District Attorney, and specialized in the prosecution of cases involving child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence in both District and Superior Court, handling these complex cases from investigation through grand jury indictment and trial. She is currently a Lecturer at Law at the University of CT, School of Law, and serves as an Adjunct at Capital College and Bay Path College.
She has published numerous articles and has made numerous media appearances both on radio and television. Attorney Cruz is a licensed attorney in MA and CT.
Law Enforcement Victim Advocates & Vicitm Rights – Bridget Daly Musteata
Bridget Daly Musteata is the Law Enforcement Victim Advocate (LEVA) for the Duncan Police Department in Duncan, South Carolina. She is also the Legislative Liaison for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Victim Advocate Association (SCLEVA). Bridget is certified through the Crime Victims’ Ombudsman of the Office of the Governor (OVSEC) and a graduate of the South Carolina Victim Assistance Academy (SCVAA). Bridget has been employed with the Duncan Police Department since 2006. Prior to being employed with the Duncan Police Department she was a corporate paralegal.
Bridget actively attends seminars; training classes and conferences such as the South Carolina’s Annual Victim’s Right’s Week Conference, United We Stand and S.T.O.P. Violence Against Women Programs sponsored by the Office of the Attorney General and The South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. This March Bridget will be certified as a Forensic Interviewer.
She currently serves as a member of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Victim Advocate Association (LEVA) and Spartanburg Victim Assistance Network (SPVAN) and serves as a volunteer to Soldiers’ Angels, South Carolina Department of Public Safety’s Families of Highway Fatalities (FHF), and Southeastern Children’s Home. This year Bridget was awarded Law Enforcement Victim Advocate of the Year by the Law Enforcement Victim Advocate Association and The South Carolina House of Representatives honored her as 2012 Victim Advocate of the Year. She is also a member of Southern Hospitality, a Women’s Civic Organization.
Never Give Up: James Dunn (photo content, credit TECHsan)
In 1991 Jim Dunn recieved the call a parent should ever get saying, “your on is missing”; from that day forward his relentless dedication to seek the truth and everything that developed in the years to come brougth forth a resolution. Read his gripping book on his journey, his fight, but more importanly his testimony on how he, never gave up. For years Jim shared his story of suffering a missing loved one and how he aided in the investigation and conviction of those responsible for the murder of his son, Scott; now he is afforded to add to that story by the recent recovery and his final resolution.
Differences in Underwater Technology : Chuck Elgin
Chuck is an experienced twenty year veteran as a public safety diver providing service, currently he functions as a sonar provider. He is well versed on all equipment in the form of U/W cameras and ROV’s. Chuck recently finished working with NC OSH in developing and publishing a Public Safety Diving Guideline.
Chuck has thirty years of sonar experience and has been called upon in many high for profile homicide cases and for downed aircraft location for both civilian and the US Army National Guard as well as sunken watercraft, including submerged vehicles.
NCURT (North Carolina UnderWater Response Team) is based in Vance County North Carolina, providing service to state and requesting surrounding states. In most cases the team is called upon when the initial efforts have not produced the needed results as opposed to a prime responder. Services extend to Law Enforcement for evidence, crime scene underwater, missing person casework, and commercial sector with mapping and salvage operations.
Trauma, Stress and Healing: Dr. Dalal Akoury, MD
The AwareMed Health and Wellness Resource Center was born as a result of Dr. Dalal Akoury’s pursuit to find the truth about health and wellness, when she realized that traditional one size fits all medicine is doomed to failure, she made a decision to create a medical institution whose main objective is to transform individuals’ lives through increasing awareness about health and wellness and by empowering individuals to find their own inner healing power.
A beautifully appointed facility in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, AwareMed welcomes patients from all levels of health and wellness offering treatments and care for those with chronic disease using the latest protocols and programs to enhance the state of wellness with physical, mental, and spiritual coaching. Working with each patient as an individual, Dr. Akoury can assess the stress indicators that lead to serious disease and, ideally, ward it off by a personalized wellness program structured for that patient’s needs.
No more, “Throw Away Teens”: Marilyn K. Gambrell
Marilyn K. Gambrell attended Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX and received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminology and Corrections. She is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of No More Victims, Inc. (NMVI) and is a Certified Anger Resolution Therapist. Ms. Gambrell is a former Texas Parole Officer and an administrator of two correctional facilities.
She witnessed many painful life circumstances that children were enduring who were experiencing parental incarceration. She felt compelled and it became a long-term goal to create a program to support this particular population of children. Her dream became a reality and resulted in her founding the No More Victims program. In January, 2000, she initiated the “healing the CHILD within” Program for Children of Incarcerated Parents at M. B. Smiley High School, Houston, TX. Currently, approximately over 1,700 children have enrolled since its inception. Her uniquely designed program specifically created for this population of children is school, corrections and community-based. The program has now expanded to seven schools in the Houston Independent School District, TX and the North Forest Independent School District, Houston, TX.
On August 22, 2005, the Lifetime Movie Original: “Fighting the Odds – The Marilyn Gambrell Story”, NickNews, MTV True Life and Secret Millionaire. Marilyn Gambrell is an author and a playwright with her first play production to be released in 2012. Her program is now in seven schools in Houston ISD and at North Forest High School, North Forest ISD, Houston, TX.
There have been many special feature stories regarding her work. She has been featured in U.S. News & World Report and People Magazine. Ms. Gambrell has been named an American Street Saint in the nationally acclaimed book titled “Street Saints: Renewing America’s Cities”, written by Barbara Elliott. Ms. Gambrell has received tremendous local, national and international media coverage with a CNN “NewsNight with Aaron Brown” Special Feature Story being nominated for an Emmy Award, 2004. During 2008, she was named the Alumnus of the Year, College of Criminal Justice, Sam Houston State University, named one of the Top Twenty-Five Women of Houston and received the International Ambassador of Peace Award. She was just named one of the top ten most inspiring teachers for BeliefNet Magazine, August, 2012.
Victims Hours Presentations
Christine Viola Washington is the mother of four children who reside with her and husband Jeffrey, in Englewood, NJ. She is the daughter of Patricia Viola who was reported missing on February 13, 2001; recovered and was identified in 2011. She attended Lincoln Tech Institute for Medical Assistant studies and completed her First Responder Certification and is an active member of Englewood Volunteer Ambulance Corp. Christine is employed at the local Shop Rite in Englewood. She will share her Journey from the inside look of a child who endured a missing parent.
“Missing” Brandon Graves
Penny Armstrong – “Missing” Kelly Armstrong
Penny Armstrong the 60 years old the biological aunt of Kelly Jon Armstrong whose remains have not been found since the alledged murder by her boyfriend. She lives
in North Vernon, Indiana and has three children, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Penny has worked in the food industry all of her life as a kitchen manager but recently is finishing her bachelor degree in the legal field as a Paralegal. She will granduate soon with a 4.0 grade average, choosing this field she with her passion for criminal law.
Penny has suffered the loss of three nieces murdered by domestic violence in the past eight years. Kelly, who remian missing, is one of the nieces she helped raise, having guardianship on and off of Kelly during her teen year. Penny and her husband of 31 years, conitual to be hopeful that Kelly’s remains will be found.
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 2013.
Saturday March 23, 2013 Time: 7:30 pm (The public is welcome)
Riverfront Park, Downtown Wilmington Waterfront
Mistress of Ceremony – TBA
Guest Speaker – “Where does HOPE begin” Anita Davis Sullivan
Anita is the sister of missing person, Michael “Austin” Davis, and daughter of CUE Center for Missing Persons State Outreach Coordinator, Christy Davis. Anita first became passionate about being an advocate for those without a voice while working at as a sexual assault and domestic violence response coordinator, which grew into a career in non-profit.
In 2007, Anita learned first hand about needing a voice, when her brother disappeared from Jacksonville, Florida and their family sought assistance. Though Austin has not yet been brought home, the hope shined by each person who has helped continues to propel Anita forward. She now shares her writing and her heart through a blog, ‘Finding Austin, Losing Myself’ hoping to share her story and her message of Hope.
Anita was proud to work with illustrator and friend, John Santillo to bring a children’s activity book to life in partnership with CUE. It is her true prayer that through this, kids will stay safe and people will be found. The book is dedicated to her oldest son, who never forgets his Uncle Austin, and always believes we’ll find him one day.
Reading of the Poem Dedication - Sheree Justus
Vocal Tribute – Heather Cohen “Be Strong”
Heather Cohen was born in the Saint Joseph, MO, which is best known in history as the place where Jesse James was shot and killed. Like Jesse James, her spirit was restless. From a very early age, she knew that her destiny was in music and entertainment.
In 2000, she recorded her first demo in her hometown and began sending out press kits to various labels and managers in Nashville, TN. The first person to respond to her was Dick Frank, the same Dick Frank who found Shania Twain in Canada many years ago. In her first phone conversation with Mr. Frank, he told her that she needed to move to Nashville if she wanted to have a career in country music. He said that she would have to be “present to win”. She took his words very seriously and began making arrangements to move.
In 2010, she teamed up with local musician/producer Steve Rutledge to record a six song EPK. The pair co-wrote three of the six songs. The remaining three were provided to her by her friend, Jason Deere. Deere co-wrote the songs with Gretchen Wilson, Johanna Smith and Paisley Van Patten.
Currently, she’s dedicating much of her time to helping the CUE Center for Missing Persons as a State Outreach Coordinator and she is in the process of launching her “Dear Bully” campaign.
Heather’s story is one of perseverance and faith. She has spent the majority of her time since her mother’s death reflecting and rebuilding her life from the inside out. Music has been her refuge as well as her outward expression of her innermost thoughts and desires. She is as deep and diverse as the life she has lived. www.heathermichelecohen.com
National Prayer – Pastor Angie Davis
Unveiling of the Wall – Honoree Families
Vocal Tribute – Pastor Jerome Belton “Stand”
He works as a Marketing and Communications Specialist with “Communicate With The World” an internet based marketing group, as Co-Creator of the “Be About Him Movement”.
Ordained as a teacher he spends much of his time in the service of helping churches, small businesses, organizations, and individuals that are in need of, or desire direction and increase.
Candle Light Service Honorees 2013
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.”
Follow the “On The Road To Remember Tour on our blog here
National Missing Persons Road Tour 2013
It’s that time again when the CUE Center for Missing Persons begins to line up request to host rally stops for our awareness campaign concerning missing person cases across the country. This years tour will be heading out to California and we will announce more states soon! The route each year is designed from the request that come in and once the tour states are announced; anyone interested please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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 Vigils
Display Board, Banners, Signs, Marques
Guest Speakers; law enforcement, town/state dignitaries, community leaders, pastor, etc.
Tables set up for displays of missing persons photos and information
Public event or safety activities
Invite the public, family, friends and media (our team will aid in media coverage)
WHAT TYPE OF LOCATIONS HAVE BEEN USED FOR RALLY STOPS?
Police – Sheriff 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 circumstances 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
Date & time of Stop/Hosted By Address City
Stop address’s will be updated as soon as they become available
Thursday, September 20, 10:00 am
210 W. Temple Street (in front of Criminal Justice Building)
Los Angeles, California, 90012.
Friday, September 21st 1:00 PM
Mendocino Presbyterian Church, Courtyard, 44831 Main Street, Mendocino, CA 95460
Saturday, September 22, 1:00 pm Wholesale Sports Salem, OR
Kerry Johnson – 2012 Tour Honoree 1260 Lancaster Dr. Southeast (97317)
Saturday, September 22, 4:00 pm Vancouver, WA
Saturday, September 22, 7:00 pm Olympia, WA
Heritage Park 330 5th Avenue SW
Sunday, September 23, 11:00 am Burlington, WA
Pat Rimmer Tire Center, Les Schwabs of Burlington
903 South Burlington Boulevard, Burlington, WA 98233
Monday, September 24, 10:00 am Bellingham, WA
Whatcom Co Sheriff’s Office
311 Grand Street Bellingham, WA
Tuesday, September 25, 10:00 am -Chico, CA
545 Vallombrosa Ave in Bidwell Park -next to the card center-
Tuesday, September 25, 1:30 pm Sacramento, CA
State Capital Building
303 10th & Capital-West side steps in front of capital Building
Jennifer Byers Hernandez
Tuesday, September 25, 7:00 pm Fresno, CA
7065 n. Ingram ave.
Fresno, ca. 93650
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.
More From This Article
- 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.