The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

May 24, 2013

Happy ending in Cleveland gives hope to Ashtabula County people seeking missing loved ones

Star Beacon

— The amazing rescue of three Cleveland women held captive for 10 years is proof one can never stop searching for a missing person, local law enforcement officials said.

“You just never know,” said Lt. Terry Moisio, of the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Office. “You always hope.”

Amanda Berry, 27, Georgina DeJesus, 23, and Michelle Knight, 32,  were rescued May 6 from a house on Cleveland’s near west side, their prison for a decade. Their discovery after so long has provided officers investigating cold cases with renewed optimism to family and friends of missing persons.

“It’s a little ray of hope,” said Missy Cates, sister of Tim Rhodes, a Conneaut man reported missing in October 2011.

The story of the three Cleveland women is a prime example why investigators should never close the book on missing person cases, even when evidence points to a specific outcome, Moisio said.

“You just never know,” he said. “There’s always hope.”

Conneaut Police Chief Charles Burlingham, whose department is searching for Rhodes, agreed. He said the outcome in the Cleveland case is “motivation” to continue the hunt.

“You can’t take anything for granted,” he said.

The sheriff’s department has a handful of missing person cases on file, some dating back more than 10 years, Moisio said. One involves the 1997 disappearance of Anna Marie Zirkle, who was raised in Ashtabula County but living in Columbus when reported missing. The 22-year-old was last seen leaving her house, according to reports.

In July 2011, Columbus police — acting on a tip — came to Windsor Township in search of Zirkle’s remains. No body was found.

Deputies routinely pursue every tip and lead that arrive pertaining to a missing person situation, Moisio said. “Cases are never closed,” he said.

In some instances, people disappear on purpose, Moisio said. Last month, a family reported a 22-year-old relative had vanished, he said. Upon investigating, deputies found her in another state — where she had freely traveled, Moisio said.

“She wanted to be there,” he said.

Meanwhile, Cates said the Cleveland situation has helped boost the spirits of Rhodes’ family, Cates said.

“Anytime we hear anything on the news about a missing person being found, we always pay close attention,” she said. “Miracles can happen.”

Moisio doesn’t need to be convinced to continue a search. “You never give up,” he said.