Before the national news paid attention, before Ryan Seacrest tweeted
about Lauren, before the press conferences and the search parties,
Robert Spierer taped up a picture of his daughter.
At 9:45 a.m. Sunday, he walked into Smallwood Plaza. He looked at his daughter’s face smiling under the words “Missing.” A roll of masking tape on his arm, he stuck another piece along the side of the white paper and rubbed it down against a lobby door in Smallwood.
He talked about Lauren, the younger of his two daughters, who loves fashion and talks to her mother every day.
He couldn’t have anticipated how huge this story would become. In the next few days, millions of people would see his daughter’s face.
Marilyn Behrman has been there.
When her daughter, Jill, disappeared, Marilyn didn’t expect it to become a national story.
“It went local, national and then back to local,” she said. “I guess it doesn’t matter as long as someone cares enough to follow it so it doesn’t become a cold case.”
Jill never returned from her bike ride on May 31, 2000. Her father Eric filed a report the next day with the police department and her brother Brian printed off fliers with his sister’s picture.
The story of the girl who went bike riding and never came home received local attention immediately and then national attention after a year.
Marilyn remembers the mornings she would wonder if she needed to wear makeup, in case she was on TV that day. The Behrmans wanted a normal routine. But more than that, they wanted their daughter.
After nearly three years of dead-end leads, false hopes and sometimes complete silence, two hunters found Jill’s remains in a wooded roadside area in Morgan County.
In 2006, John Myers II was found guilty of the murder, and he is now serving a 65-year sentence at the state prison in Michigan City, Ind.
Marilyn said she hopes there is a much happier outcome for the Spierer family.
One huge benefit, Marilyn said, is there are many more communication tools at their fingertips. When Jill disappeared, there was no Twitter or Facebook, and cell phones were much less common. Social networking sites have been a hub for those interested
“Everything took a lot more time and effort and you couldn’t do things instantly,” Marilyn said.
She remembers the days just after Jill disappeared and how surreal everything felt.
She remembers feeling numb and on autopilot, just hoping to get through
The support of friends and strangers does keep spirits up, Marilyn said.
“It didn’t take long to figure out who your real friends were because they were the ones who were there,” she said. “It just means so much to know that people out there care, even if it’s someone you haven’t met before.”
When the story expanded into the national sphere, Marilyn said it helped to have someone handle requests for interviews. An IU spokesperson volunteered his time and support to the Behrmans. Like the Spierers, the Behrmans spoke at press conferences because all news outlets could hear reports at once.
“It’s so much better to say, ‘We’re having a press conference at such and such time’ because otherwise you’re just going to get overwhelmed by everyone,” Marilyn said.
The Behrmans learned which reporters really cared about the story and which ones just wanted a scoop and a sound bite. Marilyn watched some reporters turn on the waterworks just for television viewers, she said.
But the worst thing, she said, was a false lead that seemed promising.
“Over time, people start reporting things that they think they saw and that gets worse,” she said. “They think they saw her somewhere and that sends you off in directions that might not be valid.” Speculation can hurt, too, Marilyn said.
During police investigations, Marilyn had to share every detail of Jill’s personal life. The media becomes interested in those things too.
“It should not be an issue that Lauren was out at 4:30,” Marilyn said. “That may or may not be a fact, and it should not even be an issue. The issue is this girl is missing and her family and friends are desperate to find her. It matters because she’s important to people.”
Marilyn has attended both of the Bloomington Police Department press conferences regarding Lauren’s disappearance. She understands the yearning the family must feel for their missing girl.
Lauren’s mom, Charlene, has stood by her husband at press conferences. On Wednesday, she wore a red “IU Mom” T-shirt and held her other daughter Rebecca’s arm.
“Lauren is 20 years old, so she’s an adult officially,” Marilyn said. “But unofficially, to mom, she’s always a child.”