February 19, 2008
By Gordon Dritschilo Rutland Herald
Sandra Hopkins has some advice for Natalie Garza.
Garza is the mother of Nicholas Garza, who was least seen on the campus of Middlebury College Feb. 5 and has been the subject of searches and a missing persons investigation for a week. Hopkins is the mother of Michael Hogan, 28, who disappeared from Spring Lake Ranch in Cuttingsville in 2005.
"This time is just so valuable," Hopkins said. "The mother needs to be just relentless as far as finding him. …These are the precious moments."
Hopkins also recommended getting in touch with a number of organizations that help the families of missing persons, such as Project Jason and the CUE Center for Missing Persons.
Hogan is still missing since he vanished from the therapeutic community residence located in the town of Shrewsbury, which is south of Rutland. His father, who also goes by the name Michael Hogan, said the Vermont State Police still have an officer assigned to the case and that the family has hired a private investigator as well.
Hogan's parents, who live separately in Maryland, were more than willing to talk about how their son's disappearance has affected them.
"The first year was full of things to do — trying to learn how one goes about this, how to deal with the devastation, the lack of reality of it," Hopkins said. "Even into the second year, it fills my days and hours. Then, all of a sudden, there's nothing to do. There's no more tips, no more leads. There's emptiness."
The elder Hogan said he thinks about his missing son every day.
"I just wonder where he is, how he's doing," he said. "There's a piece missing. That's the way it's going to be until there's some resolution.
The father said he has chased after a number of leads.
He described a woman who contacted him claiming to have met the younger Hogan among the homeless of California, but who would not give her real name or talk to the police. She contacted him again, saying the missing Hogan now had a girlfriend and was living in Oregon under an assumed name.
So, the father found someone in Oregon with the name he's been given by the mystery woman. He called and talked to the man, he said, and it wasn't Michael. The mystery woman has also defied his attempts to identify her.
Hogan also said he was sure he saw his son in a picture of a parade put on by the Twelve Tribes, a religious community. Even after a member of the group said that young Michael Hogan is not one of them and that the man in the picture was someone else, Hogan the father said he had trouble believing it.
"There are days where I have to shut off my brain because I'm trying to find him in my head," he said. "I have to think about my other children, the rest of my family, my work."
Hopkins said she has no other children. When she recently went to settle her estate, she said, she realized she had nobody to leave anything to.
"It's always there," Hopkins said. "You just carry it with you."
Hopkins's voice began to waver and crack, and she paused to regain her composure.
"You learn how to live with sadness, how to be happy and sad at the same time," she said. "It sounds crazy. … I just have to keep hoping that one day, he'll knock on the front door. That's what I live for."
Contact Gordon Dritschilo at firstname.lastname@example.org.