A year later, their plea's the same: `Bring her back'.
CORVALLIS - On the one-year anniversary of her disappearance, in a hotel conference room less than 100 yards from where Brooke Wilberger vanished on May 24, 2004, her family said the only thing they could when asked what they would say to whomever's responsible: "Bring her back," said Zak Hansen, the husband of Wilberger's sister, Stephani. "You've had her for a year, it's time you give her back to us."
The family knows that the chances are not good the 19-year-old Brigham Young University student, who police say was abducted here, is still alive. But they want to know what happened so they can get on with their lives.
Greg and Cammy Wilberger, Brooke's parents, and two sons-in-law, Hansen and Jared Cordon, attended a Tuesday morning news conference at the Hilton Garden Inn.
After more than 5,000 tips involving some 500 "suspicious persons," the Corvallis Police Department admitted they are no closer to solving the case than they were on May 24, 2004.
"No, we're still at the same place," Capt. Ron Noble said. "But it's important to us that we find Brooke. We really want to hold the person responsible accountable. We'll keep looking until there is nothing more to investigate."
Asked by a reporter what his "gut" told him about the case, Noble said: "I can tell you, statistically, the name of the person responsible is in our database."
After taking a hard look at five suspects originally, only two "persons of interest" are left on that list, Noble said. He would not, however, give any information about the two. "This will not become a cold case," he said. "We will find out what happened."
The case's only physical evidence is a pair of flip-flops Wilberger left at the spot where she was washing lamp posts at the Oak Park Apartments on Southwest 26th Street, managed then by Zak and Stephani Hansen. With only that information, and no witness accounts, finding out what happened will only become more difficult as time goes on.
As rare as stranger abductions are, Noble said investigators continue to believe that is what happened to Wilberger. Police have believed in that all along, based on the fact that Wilberger knew few people in Corvallis other than family members, and the position of her flip-flops indicated a struggle had taken place.
Corvallis Police now have one investigator devoted to Wilberger's case full-time and a team of investigators continues to meet weekly.
Although Wilberger's case has garnered much attention, Noble noted that the department still has two unsolved missing persons cases, one from the 1970s and one from the 1990s.
And Noble also pointed out that since Wilberger's disappearance, another 669 people age 19 or younger have gone missing across the United States, 12 of them in Oregon.
Part of the difficulty in solving the case is that, lacking a body or any physical evidence, it's extremely hard to create a profile of who might have abducted Wilberger, Noble said. Was it a Corvallis resident? Someone passing through? More than one person? Who knows? The FBI's lab in Quantico, Va., continues to wait for information to create a profile, Noble said.
The Wilbergers, who provided a catered lunch for police at an undisclosed location Tuesday to thank them for their time and effort on the case, said they continue to be overwhelmed with the amount of support and encouragement they've received, from total strangers to law enforcement to the media. "We are so grateful for so many things," Cammy Wilberger said. "Finding Brooke, of course, is the missing piece, but we are so grateful."
On a day as bright and sunny as the one she disappeared on, in the very spot where police say she was taken at about 11 a.m., nothing seemed out of the ordinary Tuesday. More than 75 cars were parked at the Oak Park Apartments, which the Hansens left soon after May 24, 2004, to rid their eyes of a scene they didn't want to see anymore. A young woman parked her car only feet from where Brooke Wilberger stood 365 days ago, and walked up into her apartment. Two workers planted flowers near the complex's office. Another young woman got her mail and walked into her apartment. And traffic flowed by on Southwest 26th Street.
Miles to the west, at the western edge of Philomath, where traffic enters town on Highway 20 from the coast, a billboard that once held Brooke Wilberger's smiling face and a tip-line number to call now touted an advertisement for something else. Something motorists appeared not to even notice.
Cammy and Greg Wilberger field questions from the media during a news conference on the anniversary of Brooke's disappearance.
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|Title Annotation:||Crime; The Wilberger family also thanks police for not giving up the search for Brooke despite the lack of much progress|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||May 25, 2005|
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