Archdiocese Local Ministries

Project Jason shines light on desperate lives

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Marianne Asher-Chapman’s daughter Angie Yarnell disappeared on Oct. 25, 2003.

Angie’s husband, Michael Yarnell, later admitted to killing her, but to this day has refused to tell anyone where he put Angie’s body.

So Asher-Chapman keeps looking.

“I’ll never, ever give up looking for Angie — not ever. As long as I have breath, I’m looking for Angie until I bring her home,” she said.

“It’s a very desperate way of life,” she added.

Asher-Chapman was one of 19 people who attended the Vigil of Hope for All Missing Persons held on July 30 at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kansas. The vigil was part of the “Keys to Healing” retreat July 29-31, sponsored by Project Jason.

Project Jason, a 501(c)(3) organization, was established in 2003 to provide care and support for families of missing persons, primarily adults.

Becoming a relative of a missing person means having one’s normal life suddenly shifted to “a new life of gut-wrenching, grieving and struggles that seemingly have no end,” said Kerry Messer, from St. Genevieve County, Missouri.

Messer went to bed with his wife Lynn on July 7, 2014. When he awoke the next morning, she was gone. There was simply no trace of Lynn, then 52. They had been married for 36 years.

“We all know many people who have lost loved ones due to accidents and illnesses,” said Messer. “So, among my friends are widows and widowers. Yet, they can’t comprehend the type of depth of grieving when your wife is just — gone.”

Asher-Chapman said, “It’s like a chronic illness — you don’t ‘get it’ until you get it.”

Being the relative of a missing person is like living in a surreal, parallel universe. Suddenly, the world you took for granted becomes sinister and frustrating, said relatives of the missing. There is no resolution. The world is colored by doubt and unknowing, and the duty is to keep the missing loved one’s name in the public consciousness lest they be forgotten.

“You feel like you don’t fit in any more with the rest of the world, because [other people] don’t understand what you’re going through and feeling,” said Elizabeth Harris, who attended the retreat with her daughter Ronica Paltauf. “You react to things differently. You see life in a whole different way, too — you see the harshness and realities of life.”

Harris’ daughter, Roxanne Paltauf, went missing on July 7, 2006, in their hometown of Austin, Texas. Roxanne Paltauf was 18 at the time.

On any given day, there are as many as 100,000 active missing person cases in the United States, according to NamUs, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, part of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Most cases are resolved, but there are more than 40,000 sets of human remains that cannot be identified in evidence rooms of medical examiners and coroners across the nation. NamUS calls the unfound missing “the nation’s silent mass disaster.”

Despite the large number of missing, there is relatively little help for relatives of missing adults, said Kelly Murphy. She founded Project Jason after her then- 19-year-old son, Jason Jolkowski, vanished without a trace on June 13, 2001, in Omaha, Nebraska, while walking to meet a co-worker for a ride to work.

“What I found through the course of time and my own personal healing is that there is little assistance for families of missing adults,” said Murphy.

Murphy discovered that “no one gives you a handbook” on how to deal with this trauma. No one tells you how to deal with law enforcement, or the media, or how to cope.

“When the investigation hit a standstill, I felt God was calling me to take what I learned and help other families,” she said.

Project Jason teaches families how to heighten public awareness of their family’s case. Project Jason also offers guidance and emotional assistance.

“I found there was a gap,” said Murphy. “There wasn’t anyone providing these families emotional assistance. There wasn’t anyone out there teaching them . . . how this particular trauma affects the brain and then the body. We also teach them coping mechanisms and stress relievers, dealing with things that are frustrating, and changed relationships.”

These “survivors” need care for their minds, bodies and spirits — and the spiritual process was definitely an important part of the weekend. Faith in God can literally be a lifeline.

“We teach them what is the appropriate place in their life for ‘the search,’ and then to find themselves again — find joy and meaning in their life that has nothing to do with their missing loved one,” said Murphy. “You can feel joy without guilt.”

For information about Project Jason, click here, call (402) 932-0095; or write: Project Jason, P.O. Box 59054, Renton, WA 98058.

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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