CLEVELAND (AP) — The miraculous rescue of three missing women has given hope to many families whose loved ones have vanished. Yet hope, when searching for a long-lost child, can be a dangerous thing.
Thousands of children are missing across the country. The longer they are gone, the smaller the chance they will be found alive. So when three women who had been missing for a decade or more emerged from the house where they had been held captive, it provided an extraordinarily rare happy ending.
"I would definitely say it was a miracle," said Kelly Murphy, who founded Project Jason, after her own son vanished, to help other such families.
Murphy had worked with two of the Cleveland families while their daughters were missing. After they were found, she heard from many others who are still searching.
"The general response is that it gives us all hope," Murphy said. "I'm in the situation, too, with my son almost missing for 12 years without a trace and without clues. It definitely gives us hope that there is a chance. If it happened to those girls, it can happen to us."
"To have hope helps you get through each day, hope that there's a good answer instead of the answer that nobody wants. It just helps you keep going, because it's very difficult to have to live with ambiguous loss."
But how much does it help to hope for a miracle, which by definition is almost impossible?
Some, like Murphy, need to keep that spark alive, however small. Others, like Jody Himebaugh, need to protect their emotions.
Himebaugh knows about what happened in Cleveland but has avoided the details. His son Mark disappeared in 1991 at age 11.
"Every time I watch this kind of stuff, it rekindles the last 23 years," he said. "All it does, it just gives us hope again."
For Himebaugh, hope hurts. Whether hope is more painful than saying a permanent goodbye — that's impossible to figure.
"For the past 23 years, I've been happy for the families over that time who have recovered their kids, dead or alive," he said. "At least they've got closure. My biggest fear is I'm going to go to my grave and never know what happened to Mark, and why."
The flip side of that fear is hope — and the loved ones of the missing hold tight to every glimmer. Advocates and others often speak of persistence, of keeping missing children's images in the public eye, of always working to make sure the public stays alert for the one tiny detail that could end a family's agony.
"What an amazing time to be talking about hope, with everything that's happening," Jaycee Dugard, who was missing for more than 18 years before being rescued, said this week at an awards ceremony where she urged the audience not to give up on missing children.
In Cleveland, several religious leaders spoke on that theme Wednesday. Catholic Bishop Richard Lennon posted a video message urging viewers to pray that missing people "may have the strength of the virtue of hope and that their families also may never give up hope."
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