A Cape Girardeau woman whose toddler sister disappeared in 1965 will be one of two keynote speakers at the event meant to bring awareness to the more than 1,200 people missing in the state.
"That is simply staggering. The number of families affected when a loved one is missing is immeasurable and the effects are worse than devastating," said Ra'Vae Edwards, Missouri Missing executive director.
Martha Hamilton, sibling of missing Elizabeth Ann Gill, will be joined by B.J. Spamer of the University of North Texas, who will speak of the significance of DNA and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System -- an online database with information about missing-persons cases.
Missouri Missing and Gov. Jay Nixon together have proclaimed June 17 Missing and Unidentified Persons Awareness Day.
Missouri Missing, a Jefferson City not-for-profit, was organized in 2007 to educate families of missing loved ones on resources available, teach the public about the plight of the missing and the families left behind, and to assist law enforcement by providing information. In 2008, Missouri became the first state in the nation to recognize the missing and unidentified in the form of an awareness day.
Hamilton said in addition to sharing statistics on Missouri's and the nation's missing persons, she'll share her family's story, which hit the national media circuit last year -- the 45th anniversary of the then-2-year-old's disappearance. The FBI also reclassified the case last year as a kidnapping and began to help investigate what may have happened to Gill. It had formerly been viewed as a missing person case.
Gill was last seen playing in the yard of her home on Lorimier Street. A search for Gill began 30 minutes after family reported her missing. The family continues to believe one of investigators' biggest leads, that a group of "gypsy travelers" selling purses door-to-door kidnapped Gill. The travelers used various names and numerous license plates on their Chevrolet truck, making them difficult to track.
Leads that surface regularly -- one was within the last month -- continue to give Gill's family hope.
Hamilton said investigators recently interviewed an elderly woman whose sister and brother-in-law lived in Cape Girardeau in 1965 and drove a vehicle that matched the description of one linked to Gill's possible kidnapping. The woman told police they traveled the "flea-market circuit" selling purses.
Hamilton said she feels the woman interviewed knows more, but doesn't want to be involved in the case any further.
"I find it incredible that somebody would know where their sister and brother-in-law were 45 years ago when they traveled around a lot," she said.
Additionally, the family is waiting on DNA results from three women who think they may be Elizabeth Gill.
"We really thought we were really close to finding answers," Hamilton said. "There's a good chance Beth is out there as an adult and has no idea who she really is."
Today's ceremony will be from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Rotunda on the main floor of the Capitol. Families from across the state who have missing loved ones will be in attendance and will have the opportunity to speak about them. Other speakers include Marianne Asher-Chapman, a Missouri Missing co-founder; children of Elsha Rivera, a woman missing for more than six years; Alice Beverly, the sister of recovered Paula Davis; and Cindy Young, mother of Christina Whittaker, also missing.
A moment of silence for Jacque Waller, missing from Jackson since June 1, will follow the event, which is open to the public.
Although Waller's family will not attend the service, Hamilton said she's reached out to Waller's mother, Ruby Rawson, encouraging her to keep seeking answers in her daughter's disappearance.
"That's so easy to do -- just give up and say to yourself, 'I'll never know what happened,'" Hamilton said.
No new developments were announced in Waller's case Thursday. The Jackson Police Department has been investigating the case after the Cape Girardeau/Bollinger County Major Case Squad disbanded a week ago.
Missouri State Capitol, Jefferson City, MO