Lighting the way home

September 1, 2007 by  
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Ten years later, Bob and Gay Smither continue to help families survive their missing child nightmare

Imagine for a moment that a loved one left for a routine walk or jog around the neighborhood — and never returned. Think about watching the clock as you work through the endless possibilities of what they are doing and where they could be. Minutes begin to feel like weeks.

For Friendswood residents Bob and Gay Smither, their ordeal stretched over 17 days.

In April of 1997, their daughter, 12-year-old Laura Kate Smither never returned from her morning jog and was found murdered more than two weeks later in a retention pond 12 miles from her home.

They were not alone as they searched, hoped and finally grieved. Almost 8,000 volunteers mobilized to help find Laura. It is in that spirit that the Smither family founded the Laura Recovery Center for Missing Children (LRC).

During the 17 days that Laura was missing, the Smithers received phone calls from around the country from parents and concerned members of communities where other children where missing. People wanted and needed to know how the Smithers were handling their search so that they could apply it to their communities.

“When a member of a community is reported missing, the people of the community feel the need to get involved. If not organized, even with the best of intentions, people can act in ways that actually hinder the investigation. By organizing, we give the community constructive ways to get involved, to fulfill that need to help,” Bob explains.

As more people reached out to the Smithers for help, they began to realize there were inadequacies in the way communities, authorities and familes interacted during a search. The foundation grew to meet these needs, and the Smithers worked with law enforcement and concerned citizens to create organized procedures to follow when a child is reported missing. According to their website, the most critical time to organize efforts is during the first 72 hours a child is reported missing.

Over the last 10 years, the Laura Recovery Center has grown from a core group of volunteers, meeting to discuss improvement procedures and deal with their grief, to a fully functioning foundation that, according to Bob, has received more than 1,400 phone calls from families of missing children and assisted in more than 75 searches nationwide. Of those cases, Bob reports that one-third are found alive, one-third found dead and one-third remain unsolved.

Bob serves on the board of directors for the Amber Plan and Gay is president of the board of directors for the LRC. Last year, realizing a fiscal need to keep the foundation running, the LRC hosted its first Lighting the Way Home Gala, which raised $70,000 for financial assistance to families of missing children.

On Oct. 5, the LRC will host its second annual Lighting the Way Home Gala in the Space Suit Gallery at Space Center Houston. According to co-chairperson Lori Allen, the gala aims to raise $120,000 this year assisting families of missing children.

KHOU-TV anchor Deborah Duncan is serving as honorary chair, and Dayna Steele-Justiz of Steele Media Services will emcee. The special guest speaker is Ed Smart, father of Elizabeth Smart who was abducted June 5, 2002, in Utah, and was rescued nine months later.

Doors will open with a silent auction at 7:30 p.m., dinner at 8:30 followed by the program and a live auction. Corporations or individuals can sponsor tables at the event ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. Sponsors may receive promotion at the program and/or advertising on the LRC website.

To get involved with the gala, volunteer or help in any way in the recovery of missing children nationwide, contact the LRC at: 281-482-LRCF (5723), 866-898-5723 or online at www.LRCF.org.

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