NEW HAVEN, NY – It was a study in paradox Thursday night at the New Haven Fire Hall.
The large crowd inside was laughing, smiling and sharing stories. However, it wasn’t the happy event one might think. Instead, the occasion marked the 20th anniversary of the kidnapping of Heidi Allen.
Heidi disappeared around and 7:50 a.m. April 3, 1994, from the D&W Convenience Store at Route 104 and 104B in New Haven. She was working alone that Easter Sunday. Her last transaction was at 7:42 a.m.
She has not been found. She was 18 years old.
Following the social hour Thursday, the crowd moved outside for a candlelight vigil at 7:42 p.m.
Lisa Buske, Heidi’s sister, greeted the crowd and thanked everyone for their support.
Pastor Vivian Summerville, the same pastor who led the vigils in 1994 and 1995, opened the prayer time. Pastor Daniel Groh helped make the vigil a special time of hope and prayer.
Is this more special because it’s the 20-year mark?
“I don’t believe this year is more special than others yet these milestone markers seem to be more difficult, creating different emotions and expectations,” Buske told Oswego County Today. “Typically, the 10th or 20th anniversaries are momentous and special because it means you’ve achieved longevity on the job, accomplished decades of marriage when so many choose to divorce, or a positive annotation to reaching another 10 years. For the families of the missing, to reach 10, 20 or more years with no answers … it isn’t special or something to celebrate.”
These anniversaries remind us that life is precious and not to take a day for granted, she added.
Heidi was set to graduate with honors from OCC in May 1994, job interviews were already lined up and career plans set in motion.
“To remember and honor Heidi on the 20th anniversary of her kidnapping reminds me she isn’t celebrating 20 years on the job helping others. It’s a matter of perspective,” Buske said. “So to have a loved one missing for 20 years doesn’t make this anniversary more special, just more memorable and challenging because of the milestones our loved one has missed because they were taken against their will and denied the opportunity to enjoy, accomplish, and celebrate their platinum anniversaries of life.”
The family might do a more public display of remembrance on the decade markers, but it doesn’t change the pain, grief and stress of the day, she explained.
“It just means we set this aside and do what has to be done, remember Heidi with the very people who were there for us, and her, since day one,” Buske said. “Will this year be special for Heidi’s family, friends, and community? We pray it is. Our hope in having a ‘Community Gathering of Hope for Heidi M Allen’ is to provide an opportunity for those who knew and loved Heidi, those who never knew her but remember the day life in New Haven changed, or anyone in need of a little encouragement or hope to have a place to come together. It’s a chance to share, reflect, and remember.”
Her personal desire is to educate, inform and help others understand kidnapping and child exploitation happen anywhere.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children joined the family Thursday night, sharing information about its Take 25 Campaign – http://www.take25.org/ and talked with parents and families.
The Oswego County Sheriff’s Department was on hand doing finger printing kits, a valuable resource in case the unthinkable happens.
“We are grateful for both joining us and hope many will visit their tables, ask questions, and take some life-saving reading material home,” Buske said.
It’s been 20 years. Have you ever considered just ‘moving on’ with your own life?
“Ouch, this question took my breath away. I’m thinking I just read it wrong the first couple times,” Buske replied. “In 20 years, I have never thought about forgetting my sister and just moving on with my life. To ‘move on’ is not an option. I choose to ‘move forward’! What is the difference? Let me explain.
“When we move on after an event, we tend to forget what happened and how it changed our lives and who we are. Life may even go on as if nothing ever happened when in fact something did happened and often, it was life changing. When we ‘move forward,’ we accept what happened (even when we don’t like it), make a conscious choice to live and enjoy each day, and find ways to embrace the tragedy in order to help someone else that might experience a similar situation.”
“When we ‘move on’ and not grow from the stressor thrust into our life, we typically bury the hurt, grief, loss, anger, frustration and yuck. This creates the illusion that nothing happened, nothing is wrong, and all is right with the world when in truth … it’s a lot of pain festering in our hearts waiting to erupt,” she continued. “Once the eruption hits, we realize the acceptance of the tragedy is the first step in moving forward.”
She isn’t the woman, daughter, wife, mother, or friend she was in 1994 because her only sister was kidnapped, she added.
“I wish my sister was never kidnapped, yet the truth is, she was. I can’t change what happened but I can choose to grow from this loss and help others. This acceptance provides the strength necessary to ‘move forward’ rather than live in the denial of what happened so one can ‘move on.’ On some levels though, to ‘move on’ is part of the grieving process because this allows one to survive when the pain is almost too unbearable to take. I wasted years in the ‘move on’ mode, but thankfully God opened my eyes and heart to see I needed to ‘move forward’, not just on,” Buske said.
The question asked was, ‘What drives you to keep hope alive?’ It’s a question Buske can usually answer without hesitation.
“Yet the eve before the 20th anniversary, the fog in my brain prevents clarity or organized thoughts to respond,” she said. “I think there are many things that help me to keep hope alive, with my faith in God as the foundation. A love for family keeps my hope alive. My sister keeps my hope alive. Recovered missing persons keep my hope alive. A sheriff and investigators that meet monthly on my sister’s case, 20 years later keep my hope alive. A God who sacrificed His Only Son for our sins keeps my faith alive.”
The key to the motivation of her hope is this: the action required to maintain it.
“Hope is a verb, one I choose to live out because so many others invest in my life on a daily basis. I hope because without hope there is nothing but darkness and life is much better in the Light. As long as there are hurting people in this world then I must remember hope is a verb and I need to act on. I’ll never give up on Heidi,” she said.
For a small town, New Haven has a large heart, said Kevin Gardner, chair of the Oswego County Legislature and the town’s legislator.
“It’s an unfortunate circumstance. But it’s nice to see so many people come out and support Heidi Allen’s family.”
For the last 20 years, Russell Sturtz, Heidi’s uncle, has kept a light in the window at his home hoping “to light Heidi’s way home.”
Buske said she was glad to see so many faces, some that were there 20 years ago and some that weren’t even born yet.
“One thing was different inside the fire barn tonight (compared to 20 years ago) – there was hope. There was laughter. Everybody was remembering Heidi. Twenty years ago we were searching; we weren’t sleeping, we weren’t eating,” she said. “Now 20 years into the future, look around, we are a strong community. I am so thankful for all of you. Our family has told you many times we couldn’t tell you thank you enough. You may not know how deep our thanks is for all that you have done, in the initial days and still today. They’re two little words but they come with much love.”
Buske said she didn’t want the event to close on a sad note.
In closing, she simply told everyone, “Don’t give up hope.”