“Still Loved, Still Missed”

The reality of abduction in the United States

Jennifer Kesse graduated with honors from the University of Central Florida with a degree in finance. Shortly after graduation she took a job with Central Florida Investments Timeshare Company as a financial advisor and immediately began to excel in the company. Jennifer has beautiful green eyes and a smile that could light up an entire room. She has been a loving sister, daughter, role model and a source of joy and inspiration in the lives of everyone who has known and worked with her. She was born in Orlando and grew up in Tampa, and after high school her family moved to a small town called Bradenton (in Fla.). The Kesses are a loving family who live their lives with the goal of spreading happiness and bringing love to everyone they encounter, and I am very fortunate that they have allowed me to be a part of their life. We have spent countless moments together, enjoyed long phone conversations and created memories that will forever remain close to my heart.

There is no question that Jennifer’s future looked extremely bright. Her ambition would enable her to be a CEO, and her golden heart would enable her to be a wonderful mother. However, on Jan. 24, 2006, between 7:30 and 8 a.m., tragedy struck when Jennifer disappeared from her apartment in Orlando. She has been missing for over nine years.

Right away, family and friends from all across the state rushed to Jennifer’s apartment to search for any clues or evidence that might lead them to her whereabouts. Fliers were quickly distributed, and the police began their search. On Jan. 26, Jennifer’s car was found approximately 1.2 miles away from her apartment, and a forensic team got to work immediately. After numerous sweeps of the car, they could not identity any forms of DNA that would lead them to a suspect. The complex where Jennifer’s car was found had several hidden surveillance cameras installed with a clear view of the parking lot, which showed an unidentified subject dropping her vehicle off at approximately noon the same day that she went missing. However, family and friends were not able to recognize the individual on camera. Despite having the person’s entire body on camera, the suspect’s face has never been identified. The police have referred to this individual as “the luckiest person of interest ever.” As of 2010, Jennifer’s case remains on the FBI’s Most Wanted/Missing Persons List.

Roughly 2,300 people in America are abducted/reported missing every day, and nearly 900,000 people are abducted/reported missing every year. About 74 percent of abducted or reported missing persons are female. It is my greatest hope that you, my friends and classmates, listen to the words I am saying and take them to heart. We are all aware of what abduction is, but many tend to convince themselves that it could never happen to them. This is certainly understandable, but don’t you think 900,000 other people thought the same thing? That said, here are some ways to greatly decrease your chance of becoming one of these heartbreaking statistics:

1. Do not take unnecessary risks. If you are going out by yourself, particularly at night, take a buddy with you. If you do not have to go alone, then do not.

2. Keep close to you a form of protection, such as pepper spray or anything that may be able to fend off an attacker.

3. Vary your routes when traveling and glance out your car window from time to time to make sure no one is following you.

4. Try to place yourself in a public area whenever possible. Therefore, if you are attacked, there will be many people around.

5. Be alert. Always be aware of your surroundings and those around you.

6. Be wary of strangers who use the phrases listed below, reported to be commonly used by abductors:

  • “I need help with directions.”
  • “I want to take your picture for a project I am doing.”
  • “There is an emergency I need help with.”
  • “Can you help me find my lost pet?”

7. Never disclose your address to a person you do not know or trust.

8. Be very careful if you choose to reveal that you live alone. An abductor is more likely to target someone without a roommate.

If you have ever sat down with the parents of a missing child, it is truly a humbling, emotional and life-altering experience. All they want is the truth. All they want is to hold their beloved child and whisper those three little words that are too often taken for granted…I love you. As I write this article, I think about the people I am surrounded by each day at Eastern University. Regardless of your major, your batting average, your points per game or your GPA, everyone is capable of contributing happiness, positivity and love to the world. I want to remind you that this world needs each and every one of you. Therefore, as you continue your journey on this road we call life, please be careful and always remember to keep your heart full and your eyes open.

“Those we love don’t go away, they walk beside us every day.
Unseen, unheard, but always near; still loved, still missed and very dear.”

If you suspect someone you know has gone missing, call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s 24-hour hotline immediately at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

Sources: CNN.com, CrimeMuseum.org, JenniferKesse.com, MissingKids.com, NCJRS.gov, Parents.com

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