Sunday, January 12, 2014

Billboard reminds public of Shelbyville Missing

This billboard keeps the Bedford County missing in the public's eye, said Kristy Smelcer, sister of Bobby Smelcer.
(T-G Photo by David Melson) [Order this photo]
A newly-posted billboard across the street from Shelbyville and Bedford County law enforcement headquarters is helping give hope to family members of five missing persons.
"We're looking for a killer," Sherry Meeks, brother of Leon McClaran Sr., who died with his wife Mollie in a September 2012 house fire near Rover, said Thursday. The bodies of Chloie Leverette and Gage Daniel, who were staying with their grandparents, have not been found.

Lillie Buchanan, right, grandmother of Antonio Taylor, gets a hug from search dog handler Lois Alexander.
(T-G Photo by David Melson)
"In our opinion they were murdered. That's how we feel," she said, standing with sisters Mary Lamb and Karen Smith.
Relatives of Chloie and Gage, Bobby Smelcer, whose skull was found in Duck River in April 2012 after he was reported missing in November 2010, and Antonio Taylor, last seen in 1999, gathered under the Lane Parkway billboard Thursday afternoon.
They shared hugs and hope at what Kristy Smelcer, Bobby's sister, termed a "visual" event. The billboard also includes Shelley Mook, a Shelbyville teacher last seen in February 2011.
No Mook family members were present, but Smelcer said she'd heard Tyler Mook was attempting to gain custody of his and Shelley's daughter at a hearing Thursday in Pennsylvania, where the girl has been staying with a grandparent.
A van belonging to a neighbor of the Mooks on Nashville Dirt Road was being processed by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's crime lab earlier this week, said a TBI spokesperson who did not release further details.
The families admit it's hard to not know the fate of their loved ones for so long -- but hope remains.
"Pray to God," Rochelle Adams, Taylor's mother, says when asked how she copes. "We just hope and pray that one day there will be some kind of closure."
Kristy Smelcer, an organizer of many of the events highlighting searches for the Bedford County missing, says "hope" gives her strength.
"The hope that we're going to get there -- find the rest of him and find out what happened, get resolution for my family," Smelcer said. "It's so different from death."
She's learned ways to cope since Bobby's disappearance in November 2011.
"At first it got the best of me," Smelcer said. "Now I've learned to balance it out. One thing that keeps me going is all the others that have gone missing."

Raising their hands in hope under the missing persons billboard are, from left, Rochelle Adams, mother of Antonio Taylor; Kristy Smelcer, sister of Bobby Smelcer; dog handler Theresa Compton; Mary Lamb and Karen Smith, aunts of Chloie Leverette and Gage Daniel; Lillie Buchanan, Taylor's grandmother; Sherry Hobbs, Leverette and Daniel's aunt; and dog handler Lois Alexander.
(T-G Photo by David Melson) [Order this photo]
Dog handlers from Bloodhound Search & Rescue of Clarksville attended the event. They say they've been working with area law enforcement in all the cases.
"We've worked all cases, even Antonio Taylor," dog handler Theresa Compton said. "We became involved in Bedford County right after Bobby went missing."
The group took part in 132 searches -- from missing persons to wanted criminals -- in the Middle Tennessee area last year, dog handler Lois Alexander said.
Those included at least seven in Bedford County including "three to four" searches for Smelcer, she said.
"In any search, clearing areas is as good as having an actual find as you close out the area," Alexander said. "You know they're not there."
Emotions felt by families of the missing are shared by searchers, Alexander said.
"The closure you bring the family is not one you can describe. It's euphoric," she said as she stroked Stozie, a Dutch shepherd.

Karen Smith, center, takes down information from the missing persons billboard as Mary Lamb, left, and Sherry Hobbs look on. All are sisters of the late Leon McClaran Sr., who died with his wife, Mollie, in a 2012 house fire and aunts of Chloie Leverette and Gage Daniel, the McClarans' grandchildren who were also in the home and have not been found.
(T-G Photo by David Melson)
Billboards, searches and special events are supported by the families to keep the missing in the mind of the public, they say.
"There are leads coming in," Smelcer said. "Every time we do a visual like this we get leads coming in.
"It keeps cases from becoming cold."
The billboard is funded by the Kristen Foundation for the Missing of Charlotte, N.C., which Smelcer says helps families of the missing across the country.
"Joan Scanlon-Petrouski (leader of the foundation) has never charged us a dime," Smelcer said. "Lamar Advertising gave us a huge discount on the billboard."
The Kristen Foundation is named for Kristen Modaffari, a Charlotte resident who disappeared while living and studying in San Francisco. Scanlon-Petrouski was a neighbor of Modaffari's parents. See for more details.
"We are confident the dedicated efforts of each and every one of these victims' families, combined with the diligent efforts of state and local law enforcement, will produce the leads we so desperately need," Det. Sgt. Brian Crews of the Shelbyville Police Department said in a press release.
"We also ask the citizens of Bedford County to keep each of these victims and their families in their thoughts and prayers throughout the year."

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