Faces of the Missing: How to Help the Search for Vanished Children During Pandemic
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For more than a year, Lee Mealone, 66, has kept a pair of binoculars under the seat of her car. She uses them to look at the faces of strangers in the ongoing search for her grandson, John Riser, who vanished from his Washtucna, Wash., home last year at age 16.
“I’m constantly driving these streets,” Mealone says, “looking at people.”
An athlete who played baseball and ran track, John was a good student and was living with Mealone until he made contact with his birth mother — who left when he was 3 — and decided to visit her in California.
John packed a backpack and told his friends that he was heading south. He was last seen hitchhiking on Highway 395, Mealone says. She hasn’t seen him since May 16, 2019.
“I’ve driven thousands of miles down that highway,” she says. “From the minute I get up in the morning until I go to bed at night, it's what I dedicate my day to.”
In 2019 alone, there were more than 420,000 reports of missing children, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Mealone says there hasn’t been a single lead in her grandson’s case, which has left her devastated.
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When John disappeared, he was 5 feet 7 inches and 145 lbs. Mealone wonders if he’s had a growth spurt and let his hair grow out, which makes her search more difficult, she says.
“I look at everybody, whether they are disheveled, cleaned up, sitting on the sidewalk…. He could have dyed his hair, he could have let it grow long, he could have a mustache and a beard now. It's tough.” she says. “People have no idea the heartbreak and the devastation that you go through with a missing child.”
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Mealone and her family will never give up searching for John, she says.
“We want to know he’s alive and safe,” says Mealone. “I will never give up hope until I die ... or the day I hear from him.”
Anyone who has information about John Riser should call the Adams County Sheriff’’s Office at 509-659-1122.