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Topics - owensmom

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Child Loss / Owen, our beloved mystery man
« on: July 09, 2007, 06:24:58 PM »
My son, Owen, would have been 21 on June 13, 2007.  He passed away under mysterious circumstances somewhere between May 30 and June 2, 2007.  He was looking forward to his 21st birthday, and had so many plans for his future.  My husband, Dave, my ex-husband, Michael (Owen's father), his brother, Nat, and our extended families are hoping to find the answer(s) to what happened to Owen. 

He was found dead in the Petaluma River on June 2, after missing for four days.  I had filed a missing person's report on the evening of May 30, when he failed to show up at work.  I was working out of town that day, and had received a phone call from his cell phone at 9:43 a.m. (Wednesday), and knew something was wrong.  Owen worked mostly nights at our local movie theater, and was rarely awake at that time of morning for just a chat.  I could tell someone was on the line, but couldn't hear a voice, so said I'd call him back.  Whoever had his phone at that time (this is still being debated), turned it off then, and over the next few hours/days, our family kept leaving messages until the inbox was full.  I stopped by the theater on my way back into town that evening to make sure he was okay, knowing the moment before I turned the corner, that something had gone terribly wrong.  He had not shown up, and it was 15 minutes after his start time.  I went home and called the police. 

Our local police department didn't want to take the report at first, saying, that since he was 20 and a guy, he was probably just out partying with friends, or had met some girl.  I explained that although he did like girls and liked to party with friends, he would never be a "no show" at work.  The officer came up with reason after reason why there was no need for a missing person's report.  I kept coming back with every reason to believe something bad had happened.  When the officer finally took all the information, he ended our phone call with, "Don't worry, he'll show up.  99% of them do."  I was half crazy at the end of that call, because Owen and I had a pact about knowing where each other was at any given time.  We had been through some rough times a few years back, and were very close.  What 20-year-old guy calls his mom on his 10-minute breaks at work?  Owen did.  And, that's probably the only reason the officer bothered to take my report.

For the next three days, our family and friends launched our own "missing person" campaign by questioning kids and managers at the theater, kids and adults on the streets, and by posting flyers all over town.  I rented an airplane and pilot on Friday, to take me up to search by air and took digital pictures of areas I thought might be of interest, and we organized our own search parties in two different areas.  I went to the local fire department on Friday evening and asked if they could help or had any suggestions, since the police department's response seemed sluggish.  Jeff, the firefighter I spoke with, said to simply go around the police department and call Search and Rescue directly the following morning, as they would not be answering calls in the evening.  I called them at 8:10 Saturday morning, and after 2 hours, they agreed to send up "Henry 1" our county's rescue helicopter, but that this was "political now" since they were agreeing to help with a search from a private citizen's request, rather than the police department -- so they could not fly over the Petaluma River, nor any other city airspace.  I said fine, we were out in the county areas at that time on the suggestion of a couple of Owen's "friends", and with thousands of acres to search, had less than 20 people in our search parties. 

No one seemed to take our missing person's report seriously, until it was too late.  As soon as Search and Rescue agreed to send up the air search, I called our friends and coworkers in the ground search, and told them to go home, that I would let them know how the air search went.  I came home where my ex-husband was manning the phones, and soon others from the search parties showed up.  My husband, whose mother has stage 4 cancer, had driven up to her house to stay overnight while her brother was out of town, and was driving back at this time. 

There were some kids in town who had been helping us by giving us hints, tips, and suggestions.  There is little doubt now, that our search in the hills west of town that Saturday morning was intentionally meant to keep us away from the river.  Once everyone had left our house to go into town to continue looking, I got a phone call from a sheriff's deputy, stating he'd like to come talk with me.  I knew at that moment that they'd found Owen, and that he was dead.

When the deputy and a police detective showed up, I was home alone.  I pointed to the flyer on the door and said, "This is my kid.  Is he dead?"  What happened next was so unbelievable, and straight out of a movie.  They told me that someone had seen a body floating in the river at about 1:20 that afternoon, and that the fire department's boat was dispatched.  They had identified the body as my son. 

Over the next few days, the news reporting was a disaster, with misquotes from several people, things taken out of context, and simple misinformation.  The coroner's office gave preliminary findings of Owen's death to the news wires before they gave the information to me, his next of kin.  Everything was such a nightmare.  It was as though someone had written a really bad screenplay and we were all characters suffering through our awful lines, wishing we could have the curtain come down and go home. 

Because of all the difficulties with poor coordination between our county's authorities/agencies, and the fact that all of Owen's belongings (that we know he had with him) are still missing, I've felt compelled to continue doing much of the work of the investigation myself.  I don't know how many letters I've written, how many law enforcement officers I've spoken with, nor how many sleepless nights I've spent imagining the different scenarios of Owen's demise.  Our police captain told me two weeks ago that Owen's death was likely to become an "urban legend" since there are so many versions of what happened, no evidence, and no "credible" witnesses. 

I only know that while I certainly felt the pain of losing him from that first night I went to the theater, that all the things we had to do on our own have delayed this deep grief...and that now it's hitting me so hard I can hardly breathe. 

The story continues, unfortunately.  The details are too unfathomable.  We still have no actual cause of death, nor date of death.  Six weeks ago today was the last time I saw my son, my Owen.  I still can't imagine my life without him, and am afraid that I'll wear out the rest of my family and friends with how I'm getting through this.  It's true that if you haven't lost a child, you can't imagine it.  I've lost so many other loved ones, and this pain is different.   

His brother, my older son, Nat Riley, is an EMT and entering paramedic school soon.  While he cannot adequately define his pain over losing Owen, his best friend, he can define his need to help others diminish their own pain, hopefully, before their loved ones pass on.  He is suffering in such a horrifying way, trying to be strong for me and the rest of the family.  We talk a lot, and help each other cry.

My husband and I spend time talking and crying, remembering the years we had with Owen, and the funny, quirky things he did and said.  He was brilliant, talented, and had a very sad and awkward view of the world.   As his godmother said at his memorial service: "He tried on this physical world like it was a size 12 shoe.  But, Owen wore a 13, and the world did not always fit him comfortably."  We hope his new world is a fit. 

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