March 5, 2011. I keep in mind the second prefer it was yesterday when my household contacted me in a panic to let me know that my 18-year-old cousin and goddaughter, Marizela “EmEm” Perez, had gone lacking.
It’s the textual content you get in the course of the night time that doesn’t appear actual. Ten years in the past final week, EmEm vanished from the College of Washington campus in the course of a sunny afternoon. She was final seen strolling away from a Safeway grocery retailer within the U District and into the dread void of uncertainty. As soon as once more, as I’ve achieved faithfully and heartachingly for the final decade, I need to report that there’s nonetheless no information on her whereabouts. Nothing. In 2019, I lastly obtained some Seattle Police Division paperwork in response to a public information request about her case. However nothing within the trove make clear any potential investigative leads.
In my dwelling workplace, I preserve a bulging file referred to as “Discover Marizela.” There are handwritten notes of conversations with police, fastidiously constructed timelines, social media archives and vacation images gathered across the piano singing Christmas hymns and carols. There’s additionally a stack of lacking individual flyers emblazoned with the headline, “HAVE YOU SEEN ME?” illustrated with screenshots from the Safeway surveillance video. Pale and fleeting, EmEm seems to be like a ghost-drained of the gorgeous, bubbly vitality she embodied as a baby who cherished baking cookies and enjoying board video games with me.
The outline on the flyer reads:
“Asian feminine, 5’5” tall, 110 lbs, skinny construct, asymmetrical bob with quick bangs and brown/crimson highlights coiffure, tattoo on left inside arm with the phrases ‘lahat ay magiging maayos’ (all might be properly), final seen carrying a darkish jacket with hood over a light-weight shade sweater with hood, denim denims, gentle brown suede laced boots, probably carrying inexperienced eye contacts, carrying a denim drawstring backpack with rainbow butterfly screenprint, with a Macbook Professional laptop computer.”
The primary weeks after she disappeared at the moment are largely a blur, however a couple of recollections are indelible. I keep in mind breaking down whereas a teenage lady sang “If I Die Younger” by The Band Perry at my then-7-year-old son’s expertise present on the night time earlier than I flew out to Seattle to be with Marizela’s dad and mom:
I received’t neglect the kindness of strangers and previous pals who volunteered to assist us search native parks and public streets. I keep in mind feeling misplaced and determined in Discovery Park, staring out towards Puget Sound, praying to God, asking: “The place? How? Why?”
For all of the negativity that surrounds the fame of the nationwide media, I’ve nothing however reward and thanks for the native reporters — Christine Clarridge on the Seattle Instances and Shomari Stone at KOMO, particularly — who coated Marizela’s story with compassion and context. Clarridge highlighted Marizela’s case, in addition to the plight of different households with lacking younger adults, in a searing front-page characteristic on what dad and mom undergo in instances the place the police haven’t discovered proof of foul play. Suicide was a main assumption on the a part of the police. EmEm did have a historical past of melancholy. However the case of younger Joyce Chiang — whose dying in 1999 was reclassified as a murder in 2011 by Washington police who mistakenly insisted the case was a suicide — exhibits the hazards of locking into assumptions with out completely exploring all leads.
Ten years on, the investigation into Marizela’s disappearance has all however come to a halt. However in case you reside within the Washington space and have any related details about her whereabouts, contact the Seattle Police Division at 206-625-5011. And for individuals who need to undergo this, I depart you with 5 hard-learned classes from a decade’s value of unknowing:
1) Doc the whole lot; 2) Take a direct and full stock of your beloved’s web footprint — each e mail account, Fb, Flickr, Twitter and social networking account; 3) Don’t assume the police are pinging cell telephones, acquiring web or telephone information or acquiring surveillance digicam video. Don’t assume something; 4) Ensure that your beloved’s data will get into the NAMUS (Nationwide Lacking and Unidentified Individuals System) database instantly; 5) Don’t be afraid to be a squeaky wheel. In case you don’t communicate up in your lacking cherished one, nobody will.