Yellow ribbons for somebody’s child

The yellow ribbons are forgotten now, but the little boy they stood for never will be forgotten.

Tristen “Buddy” Myers loved NASCAR, his dogs, big trucks, football and horses. He loved his Aunt Donna, too, since she and his Uncle John gave him all the love his mother, Raven, never could. Raven was a troubled woman, to say the least, and in the end, her poor choices ended in an ignominious death that ended an undignified life.

Were it not for Buddy, I doubt Raven’s name would have been more than an occasional footnote on the crime pages. I ain’t going to judge the dead; besides, Buddy is the one we all care about, and the one who dominated the lives of literally hundreds of people for several beautiful days in October of 2000.

I was shocked the other day to see the resemblance between Buddy’s picture and the big eyes and beaming smile of the boy I call my grandson, Shane Junior. Both are tow-headed, skinny rascals of four years. While there is no biological link between our families, I still consider Junior to be our grandson. I have watched this boy, albeit digitally, from his days as a premature infant to a playful happy kid who tells his daddy “I love YOU!”.

I cannot imagine what it would be like if he suddenly just disappeared. Of course, his mom Tammy fiercely protects him, since that’s what parents have to do these days, in a world where evil runs free and little kids are handy targets.

The world wasn’t as evil when Buddy disappeared, or at least, that evil hadn’t yet come home to roost in our community.

Buddy was playing in the living room of their home when Donna drifted off to sleep; a four-year-old will wear out even a young woman, and Donna was actually Buddy’s great-aunt. When she woke up, the little boy she called her own was gone.

Buddy was all boy; he liked playing outside, and his two dogs were his constant companions. Donna knew his favorite places to play, there around the modest home on Microwave Tower Road near Roseboro. She was worried, but not frantic – at least not until she checked those favorite places and found no sign of the little blonde haired boy or his dogs.

It was a gorgeous day, just before the start of deer season, and well into the heart of high school football. The leaves were beginning to turn, but the mosquitoes still flew. Indeed, they flew in great clouds, as Miss Rhonda and I discovered that night when one of my editors called after bedtime and sent us scrambling to Roseboro.

Microwave Tower Road wasn’t paved back then, but it was as hilly as roads can be in the flat pine country of Sampson County. It hadn’t rained for days, and the road was shrouded in a red clay cloud cut by headlights and flashlights. As we topped the last rise leading to the Myers home, I saw flashlights piercing the dust clouds, many of them vertical as someone tried to figure where to go next.

Communications are poor at the start of any crisis, and someone had the idea that Buddy’s name was Bobby. As such, there were a dozen voices, male and female, hollering “Bobby, Bobby!” into the night.

We stayed well into the early morning hours, filing some bits and pieces by telephone, helping with the ad-hoc search as best as we could. The next day, I was back on the scene, sure that the little boy would be found, as little boys and girls always had been in any of the other searches I’d written about.

But this search was different.

Buddy would be 21 now, if he grew up. You note the odd verb tense there – I did not write “if he had grown up,” because until we give up hope, hope still lives in the hearts of friends and family. That’s why a brash, bossy woman named Monica Caison was constantly by Donna’s side the next day, shielding her from the media, looking like nothing else than a protective warrior for the tired, confused lady who felt like Buddy’s disappearance was her fault. She gave Donna hope, and in turn, gave it to the rest of us.

I am proud to call that loud, bossy woman my friend, even today. I am not sure how many times I have picked up the phone since then and heard her voice, often with the sad news that somebody’s child has gone missing.

The term can be misleading; not all missing persons are children, but every missing person is somebody’s child. Monica taught me that. Indeed, while Buddy’s family leads the list of names we call out in our nightly prayers, several of those families – the Drexels, the Robinsons, the Donovans – are missing kin who were either grown or nearly so. Still, every single one of them was somebody’s baby, and everyone deserves to know what happened to their child, regardless of age.

I have said it before, and will say it again: people simply do not disappear, like a magic trick. They walk off and get lost, or get sick, or run away, or are kidnapped. They leave something that eventually leads to them. Human beings simply cannot disappear – but Buddy, and so many others, did just that.

The searchers found a few footprints, and a favorite toy; days after the search was officially over, his dogs returned home, clean and well-fed. Psychics and moonbats and jonesing drug addicts and swindlers and gossips speculated and postulated and directed and swore the Great Spirit or a close friend or Martians had told them where Buddy could be found.

As of this writing, 21 years later, the little boy we love but never knew has never been found. Again, note that verb tense – we still love Buddy. Everyone who was there on those three days in October loves Buddy. We have never given up, even as most of the yellow ribbons have frayed and faded and fallen forgotten by the roadside.

He is not the only missing child, of course, but he is the one whose great big eyes lock onto you from the “Missing” flyer, a child whose fate we do not know, a child we still pray somehow comes home.

If you drive through Roseboro on the Fayetteville highway today, you’ll occasionally see fresh yellow ribbons. Family and friends make sure everyone holds on to the dream we all have, that someday, a little boy named Buddy will come home.

But those yellow ribbons aren’t just for Buddy; they are signs of hope.

Those yellow ribbons hold together the last hope for every family of every missing person, because every missing person is somebody’s baby.

 

Anyone with information about the disappearance of Tristen “Buddy” Myers is asked to call the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office at 910.592.4141.