On March 5, my 18-year-old cousin disappeared from her University of Washington campus in Seattle. Marizela Perez — 5-foot-5, 110 pounds, short black hair with brown/red highlights and bangs cut into an asymmetrical bob, wearing a dark hooded jacket, jeans, and light brown suede boots — was last seen at a Safeway grocery that fateful Saturday afternoon.
Marizela walked out the door and up Brooklyn Ave., and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
Civil War historian Drew Gilpin Faust once described the “aching hearts” of families of the missing “in which the dread void of uncertainty” remains. In the first days and weeks after Marizela went missing, this feeling completely engulfed her parents, relatives, and friends near and far.
How to express the inexpressible?
You try to breathe, but all that fills your lungs is that smoky, stifling uncertainty.
You try to eat, but all you can taste is indigestible fear.
You try to sleep, but all that comes is fathomless fatigue.
Your heart is weighted with grief, but your soul refuses to mourn.
You cling to hope and faith, tie a knot at the ends, and hang on with raw, blistered desperation.
Whoever said “time heals all wounds” has known only superficial hurt. Sharp pangs of panic have metastasized into deep anguish over the past eight months. There have been no investigative leads. No witnesses have come forward. To the police department, as is the case with so many others like her, Marizela is just another bureaucratic burden.
In fact, for five full months, the Seattle police shockingly violated state code requiring law-enforcement agencies to submit her DNA information and dental X-rays to the Washington State Patrol within 30 days of her disappearance. After raising a ruckus, we were informed in late October that this legally mandated task was assigned to a “light duty” officer (never identified) who let it slip through the cracks. No one was held accountable for this negligence.
Along the way, however, the kindness of complete strangers has been boundless. This holiday season, our heartfelt gratitude goes out to each and every person who has contributed to the search for Marizela, including:
Ned Cullen and the generous folks at ClearChannel Outdoor, who donated digital billboard space for missing persons alerts about Marizela all over the West Coast, from the Seattle area to Salem, Ore., San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.
The staff of the King County Superior Court and the staff of the King County medical examiner’s office, foremost among them forensic anthropologist Kathy Taylor for her professionalism, and for her dedication to and compassion for families of the missing.
Countless bloggers, Twitter users, and YouTube and Facebook users from across the political spectrum and from every walk of life who took time to spread the word about Marizela’s disappearance from Day One.