When Jeff Skemp’s 13-year-old daughter Rachel disappeared in 1996, a sense of hopelessness set in.
Twenty-two years later, he says he has accepted the situation, though he’s never forgotten his daughter and continues to try to keep her name alive through events like Cook County’s Missing Persons Day, which was held Saturday at the medical examiner’s office.
“It’s important to support families of other missing people because this is one of the only things they can do to keep their loved ones’ names out there,” Skemp said. “No one else has been an advocate for Rachel and I try to honor her memory.”
In the county’s second annual event dedicated to the missing, families and advocates gathered to support one another, and to provide DNA samples along with their loved ones’ information for entry into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
Counselors and police were on site for families and friends to talk to. They could also file a police report if their relative had been missing for a month or more.
The national database shows more than 300 missing people in Illinois. Their ages range from very young when they disappeared — like 3-year-old Diamond Bradley who disappeared with her 10-year-old sister Tionda in 2001 — to 76-year-old Frank Stonemark, who was last seen Oct. 30, 2017.
Tionda and Diamond’s aunt, Faith Bradley-Cathery, said she came to the event to “help people remember” her nieces, and saw the day as an opportunity for all in similar situations to update the public.
The county’s chief medical examiner Dr. Ponni Arunkumar said the purpose of the day was to help identify as many missing people as possible, and to bring important agencies and support groups together in one place for families who are seeking answers.
“At this point we hope they get closure knowing that they’ve done everything they can,” Arunkumar said.
Skemp acknowledged those resources were not likely to make a break in his daughter’s case, but he said they could still be helpful.
“It’s an avenue of support for those of us going through this, but also a forum for us to show we have loved ones who just disappeared one day,” Skemp said. “I’d urge parents not to take their kids for granted and to relish every moment because you just don’t know when they’ll be gone. It could happen to you.”