Volunteer tries to light the way home for missing relatives

Tue, 05/19/2009 - 3:00pm
By: Ben Nelms

Christine Jones

Christine Jones is not your average person with a 9-5 outlook on work. Her paying job finds her at a local trucking company, but after hours, the Sharpsburg resident puts in nearly the equivalent of another full day’s work at home in front of her computer trying to help people across America find their missing relatives or those who have been found dead but remain unidentified. For Jones, her mission is a matter of Lighting the Way Home for families to locate their loved ones.

For Jones, the impetus that began her passion for the work came when a prosecutor she knew in Pennsylvania went missing. Her search to try to find the answer of his disappearance led her to www.websleuths.com. That was more than two years ago.

“I found the (Websleuths) website researching him,” Jones said. “And I just fell in love with an unidentified girl in a morgue after I saw her picture. I got hooked. I just had to find out who this girl was. I worked and worked on it then got involved with other cases. The I realized there was nobody here helping in Georgia. I contacted the GBI clearinghouse and talked to them about wanting to start something and I started Lighting the Way Home.”

Jones initially set up a website for Lighting the Way Home, but soon transitioned into the Websleuths.com crime and discussion forum as a forum participant. Jones subsequently began moderating her own forum on the website.

“We asked them for a spot and to give us an area to become a resource. But we are the only organization on Websleuths. So we are not affiliated with Websleuth. They serve as our platform,” Jones explained, adding that Websleuths currently has 17,000 members. “There was so much more to be done, and rather than being one of many in a sea of websites that are resources for the missing, it was time for us to evolve into a more unique resource for our friends and fellow sleuthers on the Internet.”

Now two years later, Jones facilitates and moderates several venues designed specifically to find the missing and help identify those already deceased. Some at the outset of her personal mission told her that the effort would require full-time hours. Jones did not listen.

“I get home every day at 5:30 and I’m on the web pages until about 2 a.m.,” she said recently sitting at her kitchen table and surrounded by a laptop and stacks of files.

Though functioning as an organization for only two years, Lighting the Way Home has already been successful at helping resolve cases of missing and unidentified persons.

“There was the case of a child in Newnan who was abducted 13 years ago by the biological father. We found him and the mother and son were united, as were the father and the daughter he left behind,” Jones said. “We also located a man who had been voluntarily missing.”

Jones is currently working with the family of a Buckhead girl to locate her. The girl is one of nearly 15 missing persons Light the Way Home and its 51 volunteers are attempting to locate. Volunteers include private investigators, photographers, bounty hunters, search and rescue personnel and average people who want to help, she said.

All things considered, the attempt to locate the missing and identify the dead is a difficult undertaking. But sometimes resolution does come.

Such was the case of Tawni Lee Mazzone, whose body had been in the Maricopa County, Arizona morgue for nine years listed as Jane Doe 0042. With Jones’ assistance, Mazzone’s brother located her.

Tawni was just so beautiful, and to see her like that in the cold morgue, nobody cared, said Jones. So we just made the decision we were going to figure out who she was, Jones told Phoenix’s ABC 15 television station last year.

“She was 17 years old. She laid in a morgue for nine years,” Jones said emphatically. “We kept talking about her. We kept her picture up there and we wouldn’t let it go. Then one day her brother woke up and said he was going to find his sister. He found Websleuths and he found me. As soon as he got on the phone with me we pulled it together. That’s why I don‘t give up. I worked on that case since almost day one.”

But the case of Tawni Mazzone is just one compared to the countless others of people that go missing in America each year and the others whose bodies are found but remain unidentified. Many people with missing loved ones do not feel comfortable or competent to call a medical examiner or a morgue. More than anything, Lighting the Way Home functions as a facilitator for family members that do not know where to go or where to turn. Though it is work with no pay day, it is an endeavor with a particular type of intrinsic reward.

The forum platform for Lighting the Way Home can be found at http://www.websleuths.com/forums/ .

Jones also moderates a network of more than 600 friends on a similar venue on www.myspace.com/do_u_recognize_me.

“Doing justice is being concerned for those who are left out, looked over, abused and oppressed. Loving kindness is being considerate, thoughtful and actively working for the good of others,” Jones said. “That’s what I feel like. That’s what I do. Who else is going to speak for these dead bodies in these morgues? They are just laying there. I don’t know where it comes from to do this. But someone’s got to be missing them somewhere. They just don’t know how to find them.”

For Jones and the growing number of volunteers in 15 states and England, Lighting The Way Home centers much of its activities on offering support to families. Lighting the Way has helped add numerous missing and unidentified DNA samples into the national CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) database based on samples supplied by families, has worked to strengthen state laws through its support for Campaign for the Missing and has assisted in re-establishing a connection between a custodial parent and their abducted child, Jones said.

Christine Jones just keeps doing what she is doing. Wrapped up inside her personal mission is the expectation than more people will take up the cause of those whose voices have been silenced.

“Our vision will eventually include legal resources for pro bono attorneys and private investigators. There will be experienced people available within each state to guide and ask questions, to be sounding boards. There will be a continued focus on Campaign for the Missing as well as collecting and adding DNA into central databases,” Jones said. “And we will work together to eliminate the roadblocks experienced by law enforcement and the loved ones of the missing as they struggle with the steps to take to be reunited with those they have lost.”

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