Chicago area families seek answers about missing loved ones

By Kevin Beese For Chronicle Media

Renee Brown of Chicago talks with Mark Czworniak of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children during Cook County’s first Missing Persons Day held May 20. Brown’s son, Nicholas, has been missing for nine years. (Photos by Kevin Beese/For Chronicle Media)

Renee Brown has lived with the uncertainty of not knowing what happened to her son for nine years.

Her son, Nicholas, disappeared on May 12, 2008, four days after he became a father. Renee Brown, a resident of Chicago’s South Side, knows her son is gone, but has never been able to find out how he died or been able to bury his remains.

“Three different detectives have told me they know he’s dead,” Brown said, “but they haven’t told me how and we have never found his body.”

She said she has heard everything from her son was thrown into an incinerator to he was burned with acid to he was beaten to death by his own gang when he stood up to someone trying to extort him.

Brown is from the area around 29th and State streets, the same area from which her son disappeared nine years ago.

“I was born and raised there. I know everyone down there,” Brown said. “If something happened while I was sleeping someone would tell me about it when I woke up, but everyone is quiet. Somebody knows something … He didn’t go away on his own.”

Brown was one of more than 25 individuals who went to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office on Saturday (May 20), hoping for some new connection or answer that could lead to information about their missing loved one. Brown submitted a saliva sample that will be used to check her DNA against human remains across the county to see if any of them are Nicholas.

Family members (seated at left side of table) of missing individuals fill out paperwork at the county’s Missing Persons Day.

The county’s first Missing Persons Day was an opportunity to connect individuals of long-term missing loved ones with resources and experts, according to the county’s Chief Medical Examiner Ponni Arunkumar.

Individuals with friends and family missing for more than a month were able to submit DNA samples, medical records, pictures and other records to aid in the search. Emotional support services were also available to families.

“If we can provide closure for one family, this would be very fulfilling,” Arunkumar said of the four hours Saturday where tables were manned by the Red Cross, clergy, Polish Consulate, Cook County Sheriff Department, Office of State Guardian, Family Members of Missing Persons, Will County, and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Arunkumar was happy that more than 25 families were helped through the event.

“This was our first time doing this so we had nothing to compare it to,” Arunkumar said.

Getting more information about missing persons into various data systems can only help with trying to identify unclaimed remains, the chief medical examiner said. While no immediate connections were made Saturday, Arunkumar said information gained at the Missing Persons Day may eventually lead to connecting a family with remains.

“The process takes time,” she said.

Pictures of some of the missing individuals from the Chicago area.

Arunkumar said staff members presented her with the idea for the event after hearing that the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office has been doing a Missing Persons Day since 2014. She said her staff has worked closely with New York City leaders and leaders in other areas where such events have been held to try to connect families with missing individuals.

Susan Olsen of Maple Park and Jody Walsh of Crestwood, both of whom personally know the heartache of having a missing person brings, were on hand to provide their support to families struggling for answers. They both said they were there to help individuals more new to the process ensure that no stone is left unturned in seeking answers in their loved one’s disappearance.

“It helps us heal as we try to heal others,” said Walsh, whose sister, Robin Abrams, a Will County Sheriff’s deputy, disappeared in 1990. “It helps us. It is very therapeutic”.

A photo of Nicholas Brown of Chicago, missing for nine years, and his girlfriend, Daisy Thomas. (Photo courtesy of Anne Bielby)

Olsen’s son, Bradley, has been missing since 2007. She said the then-26-year-old had been at a bar in DeKalb and was trying to get a ride home.

“Whoever was giving him a ride home probably murdered him,” Olsen said.

Although 10 years have passed since his disappearance, Olsen still keeps 50-100 laminated posters in her car, showing a photo of her son and information about his disappearance. She said she puts them up in the DeKalb area. She said she has put her son’s information on billboards and has information about his disappearance on the back of her car.

“It’s very sad,” Olsen said of any disappearance. “We’ve been there. We know what happens. We provide information to the families that they may not have thought of.”

Photos of unknown individuals hang at Cook County’s Missing Persons Day.

For 20 years, Anne Bielby has been an advocate for families dealing with a missing person. She was happy that Cook County put on the Missing Persons Day.

“Anything that puts missing persons organizations in close connection with families is really doing a great service,” said Bielby, who was representing the Office of State Guardian at the event.

She said she was also at the event representing Shelia Bradley, whose two nieces, Tionda and Diamond Bradley, have been missing from Chicago since 2001.

“I hope another family can be helped through this event,” Bielby said.



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