As the one-year anniversary of Stacy Peterson’s disappearance nears, a mountain of failing hope and fruitless efforts dwarf the hill of optimism that once surrounded her friends and family.
It’s a milestone with no merit. A tacit cue that closure should begin, where no closure is in sight.
“It’s like walking up to a ghost,” said Sharon Bychowski, Peterson’s friend and neighbor. “You’re walking up to something but there’s nothing there. There’s no closure.”
Now, as Oct. 28 looms, a year of waiting for answers has given rise to even more questions. Is the hope of finding Peterson fading to a dream? How much longer will they have to wait for resolution? And if a resolution never materializes, what can those who searched for her do with their newfound skills?
As Peterson’s loved ones struggle with these thoughts, many who trudged through fields and sifted through waterways in search of clues to her whereabouts are trying to look forward in search of a way to preserve her memory by turning a tragedy into hope for others.
Fading to a dream
On the last Saturday of March, as the Midwest was beginning to awaken from a brutal winter, about 40 volunteers gathered at a forest preserve in southeastern Joliet to search for Peterson.
The temperature hovered just above freezing as they marched forward, wading through thick woodland, soggy marshes and patches of forest preserve that could have doubled as a landfill. They inspected every suspicious object, misplaced stone and uneven patch of dirt.
Five months after the disappearance, the grim reality of the searches already had set in for many. They were not looking for the vibrant, young mother who had brought them to this barren piece of land. They were looking for her body.
“There’s hope, but I’m starting to live with the fact that my sister is not coming home alive,” said Peterson’s sister, Cassandra Cales, at the time.
Seven months later, some are now coming to terms with the possibility that she might never be found.
“I’ve cried more times in the last week and a half than I have in the whole last year,” Bychowski said. “Because it’s done. It’s over. We’ll always want to find her, but we know that may not happen.”
After more than 140 searches covering tens of thousands of acres and hundreds of miles of waterways, family spokeswoman Pam Bosco said they are halting searches until the investigation is complete in hopes that the information will provide some direction for searches.
“We could search from now until doomsday for Stacy,” Bosco said. “But I think the best thing is to wait for all the information to come forward and just keep our thoughts on this investigation.”
On Wednesday, Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow released a statement assuring the family and the public of the continued progress in the investigation.
“The investigations into both Stacy Peterson’s disappearance and Kathleen Savio’s murder have been highly productive,” Glasgow said. “I fully expect there to be a resolution in at least one of these investigations in the near future.”
The statement was one of the few updates provided by the authorities who are investigating the cases of Savio and Peterson, the third and fourth wives of former Bolingbrook police Sgt. Drew Peterson, who is the sole suspect in Stacy Peterson’s disappearance. Police have not named a suspect in Savio’s murder, while police are treating Stacy Peterson’s disappearance as a “potential homicide” and have said they do not believe the young woman left her home and family willingly.
Waiting for resolution
As of press time Wednesday evening, Drew Peterson had not returned phone calls seeking comment.
His publicist, Glenn Selig, said Peterson was in Los Angeles to tape an interview for the “Dr. Phil” show.
From day one, Peterson has said he had nothing to do with his wife’s disappearance or with the March 2004 drowning of his third wife, whose death investigation police reopened within days of Stacy Peterson’s disappearance.
Drew Peterson said he still believes Savio’s death was an accident, as a coroner’s jury ruled in 2004, although two separate pathologists have since ruled it a homicide. He has not been charged with a crime in either case.
Glasgow said Wednesday that the special grand jury that convened in November to investigate both cases is still hearing testimony. Glasgow also noted that the cases prompted him to draft legislation that would allow hearsay testimony in trials where key witnesses have been murdered to prevent them from testifying about a defendant’s other criminal activities.
The law easily won approval in the state legislature earlier this year, but Gov. Rod Blagojevich postponed signing it after it was discovered that the bill did not contain a date for when the law would go into effect. Without an effective date, it would not become law until June 2009.
Blagojevich sent the bill back to state lawmakers, who are expected to amend the law so it becomes effective immediately, and approve it when the legislative session reconvenes in November.
With few details of the investigation made public, Stacy Peterson’s aunt, Candace Aikin, said her continued communication with police has helped her remain hopeful her family will find closure.
“It’s been a hard year, that’s for sure,” Aikin said. “There’s so many unanswered questions, there’s still a lot of emotion. It’s a hard time, but we’re taking it one day at a time, just knowing that justice will come in time. We would’ve liked to see it sooner.
“It’s hard to wait for that but we believe it will come, and I’m still believing that we will find Stacy,” Aikin said.
Searching for a new cause
Regardless of the outcome, Aikin said she wants her niece’s memory to continue well past the 23 short years of her life.
“I would hope that Stacy’s inspiration would continue to live on through people and through circumstances in their lives,” Aikin said. “I believe that her life will continue to speak to others in a positive way and that some good will come of this.”
With large-scale searches halted, lead search organizer Roy Taylor said the small group of dedicated volunteers who spent months looking for Peterson is hoping to carry on her memory by assisting in searches for other missing persons.
“We have six to eight people that are wanting to go on and donate their time and further their (search and rescue) education to help other families,” Taylor said. “It’s Stacy’s legacy, besides her children. This could be a beautiful, awesome thing.”
On the weekend of Oct. 10, the group assembled for the first time to help search for someone other than Stacy Peterson. Seven members of the group met in West Chicago to conduct a search for John Spira, a St. Charles resident who has been missing since Feb. 23, 2007.
Bolingbrook resident Dianna Noun, who aided in both the Peterson and Spira searches, said the willingness and kindness of other volunteers has been a source of inspiration.
“I’m willing to give up my time and help whenever it’s needed. And I hope that if I’m ever in that situation, I’d get the help of people like the ones I’ve met at the searches,” Noun said. “When I went to search for John Spira, I wore my Stacy shirt and if I go and search for anybody else, I will wear my Stacy shirt because I’m proud that I was part of trying to find Stacy.”
If you go
What Candlelight vigil to commemorate one-year anniversary of Stacy Peterson’s disappearance.
When Attendees will gather between 6:30 and 7 p.m. on Oct. 28.
Where Vigil will begin at the former home of Kathleen Savio, 392 Pheasant Chase Drive, and march to the Petersons’ home at 6 Pheasant Chase Court. Refreshments will be provided at 5 Pheasant Chase Court following the event.
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