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PLUMBERS ON DRIVE TO FIND MISSING KIDS : MANY ARE MISSING.

Byline: Jenifer Hanrahan Daily News Staff Writer

It's been three years since 6-year-old Crystal Tymich vanished.

Three years since officers called off the police dogs, the door-to-door search and the roadblock in her South Central Los Angeles neighborhood, where she last was seen playing with her brothers.

Three years since her father, Mario Tymich, has felt a moment of peace.

``Every morning when I go to work,'' he said, ``I walk to the back of the house. I always look in her room and look at her bed. I say, dear God, please bring Crystal home soon.''

Heartbreaking stories like Tymich's prompted Norm Wigginton and Rebecca Gold to do more than just wring their hands in frustration.

They have put Crystal's photograph, along with pictures of two other missing Southern California girls, on the backs of four Wigginton's Plumbing Service trucks.

The other girls are Nancy May Huang, 14, missing since April 30, 1996, and Jessica Eva Hill, 9, who police say was abducted Sept. 2, 1995, by her mother, who does not have legal custody.

Although photos of missing children have appeared on milk cartons and billboards, their appearance on plumbing trucks is believed to be a first in California.

Wigginton, the company owner, and Gold, the company vice president, said they didn't do it to publicize the Sylmar business, however. Like Crystal's father, they hope that the fleet of trucks will one day help bring a girl home.

``I drive all over the Valley, and I have high-visibility impact,'' said Wigginton, owner of the company. ``You never know who is going to be behind my truck.''

Today is National Missing Children's Day, established in 1983 by President Reagan.

Last year, 125,651 California children were reported missing, according to the state Department of Justice. In nine out of 10 such cases, the children turned out to be runaways who came back home a month or two later.

Of about 10,054 children still unaccounted for at the end of last year, nearly 9,000 were believed to be runaways, 66 appeared to have been kidnapped by noncustodial parents and six children were believed to have been abducted by strangers.

The fate of many more children is not known.

While efforts like Wigginton's may seem small in the face of these numbers, experts in the field insist that every effort helps.

Children's faces have been publicized on grocery bags and billboards, buses and airport kiosks, rest stop bulletin boards and direct-mail advertisements.

The movement to publicize the faces has been effective since the problem - and too often, the horror - of missing children burst into public consciousness early in the 1980s.

Of children who return home, one in seven is found after someone recognizes the child's picture, said Julie Cartwright, director of public affairs for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Arlington, Va.

Officials in the state Missing/Unidentified Persons Program say Wigginton's Plumbing Service is probably the first company to put missing children's faces on trucks in California.

Positive message

Even if the children aren't found, the message carried by these trucks should be clear to all parents, according to Georgia Hilgeman, executive director of the Vanished Children's Alliance in San Jose.

``It has positive implications, not only for finding the child but for keeping the issue of missing children in the minds of people so they think about it and go home and take protective action with their children,'' Hilgeman said.

Wigginton got the idea after riding a bicycle cross-country to raise money for the missing-children cause. He and Gold spent $8,000 enlarging the pictures of the children to 7 feet by 2-1/2 feet and mounting them in weatherproof plexiglass frames.

The trucks rolled off the lot with the photos four months ago. Wigginton and Gold plan to work with the Los Angeles Police Department to feature the pictures of kids and possibly abduction suspects in future cases. Wigginton and Gold also want their idea to spread to plumbing contractors and trucking companies across the nation.

``When we drive down the street, people just go crazy. They wave and honk and smile and give us the thumbs up,'' Gold said.

Mario Tymich can't say he is optimistic that Wigginton's trucks will bring home his daughter, but ``you never know,'' he said.

``I was really honored,'' he said. ``They have a lot of kids to pick from, and they picked her. We need all the exposure we can get. I'm glad she hasn't been forgotten.''

Soon after her disappearance, Crystal was featured on the TV show ``America's Most Wanted.'' Police have already tracked down hundreds of tips, but the $10,000 reward for information that would help find Crystal still goes unclaimed.

On her father's mantle is a shrine to Crystal, made up of newspaper clippings, fliers and T-shirts featuring her picture. The little girl's room is cluttered with birthdays gifts, Christmas gifts and tiny shorts and shirts which Crystal's grandmother keeps buying, just in case.

``I say, Mom, her room is all cluttered now. I wanted to keep it original,'' Tymich said. ``And she's 9 now. They won't fit her.''

The family, including his three sons, has stopped celebrating Christmas and birthdays since her disappearance.

``I feel it's not fair to do all that celebrating,'' he said, ``when she's not here.''

CAPTION(S):

Photo

Photo: Norm Wigginton and Rebecca Gold placed pictures of three missing girls on their company's trucks to aid efforts to find them.

Gus Ruelas/Daily News
COPYRIGHT 1997 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 25, 1997
Words:917
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