Mom refuses to quit search

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

OAKWOOD, Ill. -- It has been a year since Linda Katcher saw her son, Ryan.

"He once gave me a birthday card that read 'I was going to give you a trip to the Bahamas -- but I knew you'd miss me too much,"' she said.

There's no doubt about how much Katcher misses her son today and every day.

"It's been a struggle to be able to say it's been a year," Katcher said, the words catching and tears beginning to stream down her face.

"I've been through all the scenarios," Katcher said, composing herself. "I don't spend much time there in that dark place" thinking he will never come home "but sometimes I have to go there to just get it off my mind. I prefer to envision him in a homeless shelter not knowing who he is."

Katcher carries a photo, taken of her and Ryan together, at all times, "just in case."

She continues to live in her rural Oakwood home because "it's the only home Ryan's ever known."

Ryan disappeared Nov. 5, 2000. His mother went back to her nursing duties in January, in the emergency room of Provena United Samaritans Medical Center in Danville, Ill., asking co-workers for their prayers and support, but also asking them not to talk about the disappearance. The same held true at church.

"It's just that everywhere I go, I'm approached," she said. "I try to make time for people because they are the same people I'm begging to hang up a poster, post a bumper sticker, wear a button. But sometimes, I just have to turn away."

Three focuses

Katcher continues to get the word out about the disappearance. She said she will have three focuses for the upcoming year: To always know what's going on with the investigation, to get all the information she can out -- via posters and especially the Web site devoted to the case -- and to increase the reward fund, which stands at $7,500.

"Now, with so much tragedy in the world, I wonder how I make Ryan's story as compelling," Katcher said. "I'm not the first mom to go through this and, unfortunately, I won't be the last. I wish I could have stopped time the day before he went missing. Now hope is what drives me."

After nearly a year, as far as Katcher is concerned, the question is still, "Where's Ryan?" Neither she nor the Vermilion County sheriff's office is any closer to an answer.

The 20-year-old University of Illinois student was last seen at his Oakwood home when a friend dropped him off about 2 a.m. after a party.

"It's still a mystery," said Capt. Gary Miller, chief investigator with the Vermilion County sheriff's office. "We still follow any leads that come in or we create. The case still has top priority. I try to keep in mind that as frustrating as it is for me, it's nothing compared to what Linda is going through.

During the first weeks, law enforcement, Emergency Management Agency personnel, friends and family searched river banks and fields, then winter set in. In the spring, help was asked of boaters, hunters, farmers, even mushroomers.

With the thaw came the water search.

"They called me and said maybe I'd want to take a different way home from work and avoid Henning Road," Katcher said. "As I was on 150, first one deputy's car passed me then another and I had such a dread. I didn't want my last vision of Ryan to be his truck being pulled out of the water."

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