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The police and the Lyon family

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Published on: Wednesday, February 12, 2014

By Brian J. Karem

The little girls went to the mall for pizza and window shopping. They never came back.  That was 39 years ago in Wheaton but during my time as a reporter I’ve covered dozens of similar cases.

There is no more heart wrenching experience to imagine or endure as a parent. During my time as a correspondent for America’s Most Wanted I grew to cringe every time I had to interview the parents of dead or missing children. You can’t imagine the look of horror and fear in someone’s eyes until you’ve tried to help them find their children or the person responsible for their disappearance.

One of the most often quoted lines from our host, John Walsh, was the fact that he and people like him belonged to a very unique club. They didn’t ask to be in it and they don’t want anyone else to join.

The Lyon family is in that club and this week all of those old feelings for the two girls came flooding back into our collective consciousness as County Police Chief Tom Manger announced the department had a “person of interest” who is already behind bars and asked for help from the public in finding more information that could possibly tie this man to the case.

I will forgive some of the ridiculous questions from some of the younger reporters which included why the police were still pursuing the case and when did they reopen the case. But I cannot understand and must address some of the cynicism associated with the department’s attempt to reach out to the public and help solve the case.

Many of the cynical comments came in the form of comments on social media and a few e-mails to The Sentinel. While many, in fact the majority of comments were in overwhelming support of trying to find the killer, those who sent criticism of this event and cynically attributed it to grandstanding or disingenuous or opportunistic behavior on anyone’s part really miss the point.

This is not a sycophantic comment. When those in power need or deserve criticism, this column has done so.

Now is not the time for critical comment. Now is, however, the time to try and help. The plea for help is actually only aimed at people who lived here in March of 1975, have memories of the event or had dealings with some of the principle players in the case. That means the police are reaching out – at best – to a few thousand people on the planet. It is imperative that anything you remember, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant be passed on to the police and the FBI.

The cold case squad of three detectives and the homicide investigators in the county has worked this case for 39 years. The family has lived with their missing loved ones since that horrible day in March, 1975.

Please take this plea for help as seriously as you can. The family deserves closure and the lives of those girls should stand for this: We will not rest until those responsible are brought to justice and by doing so we serve notice that we will not tolerate such behavior and will try to eradicate this behavior from our society.

There but for the grace of God, go I. As a parent I often worried about my young children – to the extent I was wary of them riding their bikes in our suburban safety of Derwood.

This came from interviewing the parents of a young girl who disappeared while walking from school in San Antonio, or the father who literally pulled his hair out when his 12-year-old son was found dead after a stranger abduction in Mississippi, or the mother who did the same to her hair after her daughter was found murdered in a yogurt shop. The list goes on at various locations throughout this country – places that to this day I can only remember because of the tragedy which occurred there and the lives lost or forever altered for the worst.

Once I was confronted by a young beat cop at scene of a triple murder who told me to step back behind the crime scene tape he was putting up. I sighed and told him I really had no intention of stepping over the tape. I was tired and wanted to go home. It was the third homicide I’d covered that night. His face suddenly resembled a puppy who cocks its head to one side as it tries to understand the sounds coming out of your mouth. He said I sounded like a homicide detective.

I nodded in the direction of the nearest homicide detective and I could understand that, I’d seen them at the same three homicides I’d already covered.

It is a horror to investigate these cases. It is a horror to cover them. It is an unequaled horror to be a member of the family suffering through it. But we are all in this together and we need each other’s help. If you can, then step up.

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